One week ago, we launched a campaign to raise the funds to ‘Save Sontaya’, a beautiful, old elephant, working in the taxing tourism trade. Sontaya was exhausted from giving back-breaking rides to tourists in a camp in Pattaya.
We reached out to you and asked you to share Sontaya’s story and the response was phenomenal! Sontaya’s plight was shared over 2000 times and was read by over 100,000 people. The funds for her rescue were raised in just 72 hours – I have said it before and I will say it again – BLES has the BEST supporters!
The last couple of days have been tiring and very long, but we are beyond ecstatic to share with you that Sontaya has now arrived, safe, sound and very happy at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES!!!
We were on the road for a total of 34 hours. Fourteen of those hours, Anon spent in the truck, beside Sontaya, soothing and reassuring her, as we drove past the high storey buildings and along the heavy traffic of Pattaya, Bangkok and then Sukhothai.
Sontaya was amazing. She remained calm throughout the journey and it was touching to see her turn towards Anon every now and then, almost as if she was asking him where we were taking her. Anon would smile up at her, stroke her face and whisper back words of comfort.
The camp were Sontaya had spent the last two years of her life enslaved to tourism, was hectic. At least 30 coaches pulled in, in the time we spent there. Excited people poured out and ran towards the elephants who were lined up, heavy chairs strapped to their backs, swaying back and forth, hot, hungry, exhausted and stressed.
After speaking with some of the mahouts at the camp, we learnt that the mahouts earn a pathetic 20 Baht per ride. In a typical day, they can give 50 rides. This means that in one working day, which is normally 12 hours, the mahout earns an average of 1000 Baht. The reason I am sharing this information, is to help raise awareness for the mahouts that live in these camps. I honestly feel that the mahouts are just as exploited as the elephants and they are often wrongly accused of abusing the elephants in their care. A lot of these men are unable to provide for their families. They are stuck in a rut and treated appallingly by the wealthy camp owners. The mahouts are given nothing. They are not even provided with homes and so they live, with their wives and children, in squalor. Their shacks are built with old bits of scaffold that they find on building sites. There are no toilet facilities, there is no drainage system in place. Often, the mahouts are not even paid a salary. Their only source of income is the commission they earn from working their elephants into the ground.
It is unacceptable to treat any living being in such a heartless way.
So many people are quick to judge the mahouts and say they are evil for working their elephants so hard… When the mahouts are being forced to live in such impoverishment, unable to provide proper housing for their families, being treated unfairly and inhumanely – how can we expect them to be capable of compassionate care?
The mahouts that we have dealt with over the years have usually shown a genuine love for their elephants. The owners of Sontaya were so sad to let her go. It was obvious they had fallen very deeply in love with her and I think we all shed a few tears as they blessed her, hugged her and helped us load Sontaya on to the truck.
Sontaya is a special lady. She has such a wise and calm energy. I can not wait to watch her tired old body recover and slowly bulk up. To see her dry and flaky skin heal. To know her wounds are getting better and to observe her in the forest, as she rediscovers how to be an elephant again…
Sontaya is safe. She will now spend the rest of her life free, in the company of our other rescued elephants and under the loving watch of our skilled and experienced mahouts. Sontaya’s life has been changed forever and we could not have saved her without you. Thank you so much, to every single person who shared Sontaya’s story and who made a donation towards her rescue. You have been a part of something incredible and as I sit here, feeling very sleepy after our epic road trip, I am full of energy and gratitude, because now is when the real journey begins – Sontaya’s journey of discovery and recovery. I am so proud to share her journey with you.
Thank you for saving Sontaya xx