I would like to take you on a journey through our local village, to meet some of the residents here. Baan Tuek was founded over 200 years ago and elephants have always been a rich and pivotal part of the traditional culture of this humble, rural village. Typically, the people of Baan Tuek are farmers, growing crops of rice, corn, pineapples, papayas and other traditional Thai fruits. The second major trade in this small village was always logging, using elephants to harvest timber, until the government installed a nationwide ban in January 1989.
In Baan Tuek, we still have a small community of retirees and four of them have turned to BLES for help. Four bull elephants, one in his seventies, one is in his sixties, one is in his fifties and one in his thirties, are all living in desperate conditions. The owners, all of them good, kind men, have now got to the point where they can no longer afford to keep their bulls and their options are limited: They could sell the bulls to either tourism camps or logging facilities, but none of the owners want their bulls to be worked. They want them to be able to live like elephants again, to walk freely through acres of protected forested land, to swim in rivers and ponds… In a nutshell – the owners want their bulls to enjoy their retirement at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES).
Two weeks ago, we lost our patriarch at BLES, Somai, at the impressive age of 68 years old. Somai was elderly and nobody expected him to live as long as he did. On the day of his burial, I asked Phi Sot, who had faithfully cared for Somai until his dying day, why he thought Somai had lived so long. Phi Sot’s answer was touching and inspiring – “Because he was able to live like a real elephant again…”
Phi Sot’s poignant words have been stirring in my soul ever since and it feels like Somai’s passing has opened a large door for BLES, to unite with the bulls of Baan Tuek and provide them with protection and peace during the last chapters of their captive lives.
Seedor Ngor is seventy and has always been a logging elephant. His fragile body shows scars typical of a young strong bull, possibly overworked in the ludicrous logging industry, many years ago. When I first moved to Baan Tuek, over 10 years ago, I remember meeting Ngor and being impressed by his bulk. Anon was helping the owner, Phi Daam, treat a badly infected leg wound, caused by another bull in the village. As I watch Anon and Phi Daam flush the leg wound, I found myself being in awe of the closeness between the three of them. Ngor placed complete trust in his owner and the owner clearly had faith in Anon. There was a unique energy embracing us then and that has remained embedded in my heart all these years on.
Phi Daam lives alone, as his wife died of cancer several years ago. He is hard of hearing and has never had a proper job. All Phi Daam has ever known is elephants and logging and having owned Ngor for over twenty years, he is extremely reluctant to sell him on to a tourism camp. Phi Daam loves Ngor very much and wants the best for him. He knows that BLES is the BEST and has long been a fan of our approach to elephant care. Phi Daam has asked us to take in Ngor, so we can give him back what should have always have been his – his freedom.
Seedor Nwon is in his sixties and is blind in one eye. He has lived in the village for nearly thirty years and like Ngor, has been worked hard in the trade of timber. Nwon’s owner was electrocuted in a powerful storm four years ago. The owner’s family was determined to keep hold of Nwon, who was considered a member of their family and a close family friend, who also had his own elephant, agreed to take on Nwon and take care of him on a day to day basis. That family friend was Phi Nit and his promise to the family has enabled an unlikely friendship to arise between Nwon and his elephant, Seedor Sompord.
Sompord is in his thirties and Phi Nit bought him from the northern province of Lampang as an energetic fifteen year old elephant. For the past fifteen years, Phi Nit and Sompord have participated in any work they could find – parades, illegal logging and they even did a stint of time in a local tourist camp.
Sompord has one leg shorter than the others and was born this way, so any physical labour involving carrying heavy loads, such as tourists for example, would have been detrimental to his health and wellbeing.
Two years ago, Sompord suddenly became very ill. BLES contacted the elephant hospital in Lampang and paid for the transportation of Sompord to the hospital, so that he could receive life saving treatment. We have maintained a very strong relationship with Phi Nit ever since and are delighted that he has once again, felt able to turn to us for our help.
Seedor Moo is in his fifties and is a gentle giant!! His owner, Phi Jud is a lovely man and talks non stop about his ‘brother’ Moo and all his funny habits and quirks. These two have been together for the last fourteen years and when Phi Jud first came to us to tell us he was having to sell Moo to a logging camp, he literally broke down in tears and begged us to help him.
We have been having meetings with all the owners in the village for several months now, discussing how we could best help support them and take care of their elephants. Now, two weeks after the great loss of our beloved Somai, we are excited to announce the launch of our new venture to further help our community, in his everlasting memory – The Friends of Somai Initiative!
BLES has agreed to take in and fully care for these four needy bulls – Ngor, Nwon, Sompord and Moo and employ their owners to be mahouts at BLES. By leasing these bulls, we are ensuring a livelihood for the owners and reducing the amount of stress involved when an elephant has to deal with a brand new mahout. Their transition to BLES life will flow with ease and we will also be able to offer them a high standard of health care, experienced husbandry skills and a loving approach to their welfare needs. BLES will walk with the bulls through the village, to BLES, which is a distance of 8km. We are eager to welcome the bulls and their owners, but this is going to be a huge financial undertaking and we really do need your help to accomplish this.
BLES has promised to pay 20 000 Baht a month (365 GBP or 555 USD) per elephant. This is 80 000 Baht (1458 GBP or 2217 USD) a month for them collectively and we are aiming to raise the first three months of funds needed as soon as we possibly can.
We have set up a very easy to use Justgiving page for you to make your donations and hope you will share the link far and wide and help us help the last few remaining bulls of Baan Tuek – https://www.justgiving.com/bulls4bles/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=bulls4bles&utm_campaign=pfp-share
You can also send a donation via our website -blesele.org and add the comment ‘BULLS’.
The day Somai passed, I was desperately looking everywhere for ‘his’ butterfly. (Those of you who have followed BLES through the years, will know that I firmly believe all our elephants have a butterfly that symbolises their souls). These butterflies stay on the bodies of the elephants when they have passed and normally only fly away, once the burial begins. Well, Somai did not have a butterfly. There was a dark red dragonfly that hovered around Somai’s body and as I watched it dance around him, I smiled and understood his presence: The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolises change and self realisation. The dragonfly can also represent the understanding of the deeper meaning of life. Thais believe that dragonflies are messengers from the spirit world, to the human world and that they carry their messages on their wings. In those moments of angst, sat next to Somai’s lifeless body, I did not understand the message, but I do now…
On a recent trip in to the village to follow up with the four bulls and their owners, I took a moment to look up in to the sky. The sun was just beginning to set and the warm, rusty coloured sky was alive with dragonflies! They soared through the air above us and all around us and for a few minutes, I stood hypnotised by them all. Call me crazy, but I just know those dragonflies were Somai’s way of letting us know we had his blessing…
We can not thank you enough for your constant support and on behalf of the Bulls of Baan Tuek, we wish to express our deepest gratitude for your kind contributions towards The Friends of Somai Initiative.