A true friend is someone who gives you the freedom to be yourself…
The captive elephants of Nepal have always been kept in harsh conditions. The way they have been housed and managed has often been the cause of upset for many visitors and animal activists throughout the years.
I first visited the enchanting kingdom of Nepal twelve years ago and witnessed first hand the awful living conditions of their captive elephants. Front feet were constantly hobbled together and their back legs were often tethered by a short chain to a stump in the ground. Barbed wire would be wrapped around every post to prevent the elephants from scratching and possibly pushing over the stable they spent their lives in…. It was pretty horrific.
Last week I had the absolute honour of traveling back to Nepal, to visit our dear friend Carol Buckley, Founder of Elephant Aid International (EAI). Carol has been working with the Nepali people, including government officials, elephant owners, mahouts and local animal lovers for several years now and the impact she has made to the lives of the elephants and their mahouts is astonishing.
Having lived in Thailand for thirteen years now, I fully appreciate how challenging it can be to be to influence change within Asia. Conflicting cultures, language barriers and different work ethics can cause serious frustration and lead to a lack of patience on both sides. Carol, has found a way to overcome these obstacles and as a result, she shines.
The people of Sauraha adore Carol. They affectionately call her their ‘Sister’ and it is clear to see the pride they have for her. Carol has to date, freed over seventy captive elephants from heavy, short chains and by freeing the elephants, she has gained the trust and respect of the Nepali people.
During our time in Nepal, we were able to visit several facilities and see the benefits of Carol’s Chain Free Corrals. The elephants were free – free from pain, free from their shackles and free to simply and beautifully, be.
It was all very impressive and incredibly inspiring. But, there was one elephant in particular who stole my heart and restored my hope for the captive elephants of Asia. Her name was Mal Kali and after almost seventy years in chains, she was retired and released in to 932 km2 of protected land – The Chitwan National Park.
Last year, Mal Kali collapsed. Her mahouts assumed she was dying, but Carol, with four decades of elephant management under her belt, knew Mal Kali just needed some support and compassionate care. Carol worked hand in hand with the vets and mahouts to help Mal Kali regain her strength and stand. It was decided there and then, that Mal Kali would be retired from her duties of patrolling the parks, as she was too thin and weak to cope with the stress.
Carol established a rehabilitation program and Mal Kali quickly began to thrive. She gained weight and reclaimed what should have always been hers – her freedom.
Mal Kali now spends every day, all day, roaming through the long grass and forested land of Chitwan. At approximately 4.30pm, she makes her way back, walking through the streams and river, towards the facility she has always known as home. The mahouts wait there for her to arrive and prepare a huge pot of cooked rice, mixed with salt and molasses to supplement her diet, which she hoovers up in record time! This adorable old elephant is blind in one eye and has worn her teeth down to nothing. But thanks to the combined efforts of Carol and the caring mahouts, Mal Kali is strong and possibly the happiest elephant I have ever met.
We watched her walk slowly, at her own comfortable pace, through the tall grass. She paused at the edge of the river to enjoy a refreshing drink and then continued to make her way towards her old friends – the mahouts. She looked magnificent as the setting sun illuminated her round body and it was unbelievable to see her, independently chose to spend the night with her old work buddies, as they rested in the chain free corrals, constructed by Carol.
Carol has lead by example and worked with the mahouts to give Mal Kali the best of both worlds. By day, she is wild – roaming and grazing, enjoying her freedom of choice. By night, she is captive, appreciative of having a safe place to rest her achey bones and the company of her human and elephant companions alike.
Standing in the almighty presence of Mal Kali, watching her and her attentive mahouts, has in turn given me a gift – Hope.
It is my greatest hope that all captive elephants can be retired and released just like Mal Kali. This is what we strive for at BLES and this is why we work tirelessly to secure acres of forested land for our rescued elephants here in Thailand.
From the depths of my awakened soul, I salute Carol and all she has achieved for the elephants of Nepal. I thank the Nepali people for their grace and gentleness and am grateful to them for opening their hearts and welcoming us in to their homes. But most of all, I am thankful to Mal Kali for teaching and trusting us. For embracing her freedom and sharing it with us…
As this year comes to an end, there is only one thing left to say – Nameste