Ngor: Our friend and brother…

It is with very mixed emotions that I write this entry… I am so sad, but I am also incredibly proud and grateful for being able to share the last 10 months with the stately Seedor Ngor.

Ngor was in his seventies and in a very delicate state when we welcomed him in to our family here at BLES, back in December 2015. We all knew his time with us would be short lived and knew that each day spent with him was a gift. Ngor astounded us all with his determination to live every day fully. Up until his very last breath, he lived in the forest, surrounded by friends, free to be a bull again… Yesterday morning, at approximately 5am, Ngor lay his old and frail body down on the ground, closed his eyes and passed peacefully away, in to his next life.

We had all noticed that Ngor had started to lose weight in the last two weeks and he was looking weaker than ever. This however did not stop him from going on our daily walks and splashing in the river. The day before he died, he impressed us all by digging up a huge bamboo shoot. He spent almost an hour devouring it, ripping it in to shreds and throwing them around before eating them. He swished his tail and flapped his ears and it was clear to see how content he was. He didnt have a care in the world. He was happy and so was his devoted friend, his owner and mahout of 27 years, Phi Dam.

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Phi Dam knew Ngor’s time was coming to an end. He tended to Ngor’s every single need and I am confident that Ngor passed away, knowing how loved and admired he was.

I have shed many tears for Ngor and Phi Dam. Their relationship was remarkable. Watching them together in the forest was so inspiring and I will miss that so much. Phi Dam would whisper to Ngor, guiding him to the softest leaves and thickest bushes and Ngor responded instinctively. Once Phi Dam knew that Ngor was comfortable, he would climb in to a tree and watch his friend graze. Phi Dam would gaze at Ngor, never taking his eyes off of him, smiling sweetly as Ngor would slowly disappear in to the dense foliage. The two of them truly understood each other and shared a mutual respect. The fact that we were able to share just a snippet of this unique bond is something I will always feel deeply thankful for.

After Ngor’s funeral, Phi Dam and I spent some time reminiscing. We smiled when we spoke of Ngor’s love to lie on his side in the river and close his eyes… We laughed when we remembered the day Pang Noi and Pang Suai accosted him and decided he would be their new friend… Then, we both wiped away tears when we talked about Ngor walking through the long grass in Heaven and finding his old friend, Somai… Phi Dam placed his hand on his heart and smiled. He thanked me for taking Ngor in and giving him the best days of his long life. He told me how proud he was that Ngor, who he calls his brother, got to be a real elephant again and said he knew Ngor would have died months ago, if it hadnt been for his time at BLES.

Although we will never see Ngor’s striking and individual face or be in his humbling presence again, I am reluctant to say he has died. Ngor lives on in our hearts and we will always celebrate the strength and dignity he graced us with until the very end. He was a friend to us all and every day shared with him was a blessing.

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Walk tall and proud Ngor… Now and forever, you will always live on in us. Thank you for allowing us in to your world. You were such a lovely old boy xx

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Bringing Nwon Back to BLES

“Home is a place where your feet might leave, but your heart will always be”….

Nwon is a sixty year old bull, who is blind in one eye. On the 1st December 2015, he was one of four bulls from our local village of Baan Tuek, to come to BLES, as part of a retirement plan. You can read all about how the four bulls, Nwon, Ngor, Mr Moo and Sompord, came to be at BLES here – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/the-bulls-of-baan-tuek/

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When the owners of the four bulls approached BLES and asked for our help, we knew we had to act quickly. There was no time to launch a fundraiser to buy the bulls, as their combined worth would have been a substantial amount to raise. It would have been unrealistic to raise such an ambitious amount and risky to expect the owners to wait for the funds to be raised, before bringing their bulls to BLES.

So, BLES came to an agreement with the owners, that the bulls would be leased on a permanent basis. The agreement was verbal and as I have stated before, this is how we have always and will always handle negotiations – based on trust and the belief that we are all working together for the good of the animals. I know there will be many people out there who will find this approach laughable and I understand why in your world, this management style would not be acceptable. However, the fact is, in our rural community, this is how business has always been conducted.

This method has never failed me, until very recently…

I was shocked and appalled to my core, when the owner of Nwon came to me on the morning of the 28th September 2016, to tell me that people were coming to collect Nwon and take him to Surin. I had to ask her to repeat herself three times, as I just couldnt comprehend what she was saying. After almost 12 months of BLES caring and providing for Nwon, she was going back on her word and even worse – she went behind our backs and sold Nwon.

I was confused, furious and devastated – how could she be so deceitful and not give a single thought to Nwon’s welfare? I see now, that she was only thinking about money. We will never know why she acted the way she did, but in a way, to me, none of that matters anymore, because after our most powerful fundraising campaign to date, Nwon is back at BLES – he is home.

I left BLES with my amazing team of mahouts at 4am. We were all in the one truck and it was such a bumpy ride! We laughed and chatted as the night sky faded away and the sun started to rise and I knew we were all feeling the same emotions – pride and excitement. I kept looking over at Phi Nit, who beamed back at me every time he caught my eye. He was so animated and I couldnt wait for him to be reunited with Nwon again.

It took us 16 hours to get to Surin. We were achey and exhausted, but eager to see our boy. We walked out, through the small village, towards a grassy area. Nwon was there, secured beside a lake and he looked well. I had been so nervous as we neared Surin, wondering what kind of state Nwon would be in. Worrying that he would be wounded… I was so relieved to see Nwon look strong, calm and content. His owners had taken good care of him and there was not a single injury or scar on him.

Phi Nit walked straight up to Nwon and wrapped his arms around Nwon’s front leg. He held on to him for several minutes and as I watched him with tears in my eyes, I realised he was crying too. Phi Nit then rubbed Nwon down and kept reaching up to Nwon’s face, talking to him the entire time. Nwon, who had been happily eating, froze and then started smelling Phi Nit and purring. He shook his head and roared and it was one of the most spectacular sights. Nwon remembered his old friend, Phi Nit and was clearly very happy to see him. Phi Nit walked towards me, wiping big tears from his eyes and thanked me for bringing Nwon home. He told me he loved him very much and would never leave his side… I hadnt realised until that moment, that the Bring Nwon Back to BLES campaign, wasnt just about bringing Nwon back home, it was about bringing back two friends, who had been cruelly separated… The love that Phi Nit has for Nwon is beautiful.

It took us all day to get the paperwork sorted out. Once everything was in place, the owners prepared a big dinner for us to celebrate Nwon’s journey back home.

Nwon walked on to the truck easily and he remained calm and patient throughout the 14 hour drive back to BLES.

As we were driving up the road to BLES, I opened the window, to smell the morning air. The sun was rising and I looked up at Nwon behind me and he was also smelling the air. I could feel his deep purrs and a rush of excitement shot through my body – he knew he was home!!

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We were greeted by lots of trumpets from the other elephants and as soon as Nwon was unloaded from the truck, he started grazing and dusting himself down. Phi Nit then led him to the hose, so he could have a cooling drink. Nwon’s trunk was high in the air again and I knew exactly what he was thinking – “Where are my girls?”

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We had prepared a huge welcome home buffet for Nwon and as soon as he started to enjoy it, Pang Suai and Pang Noi came hurriedly down the hill and greeted their old friend with lots of gentle touches and purrs. The three of them stood, shoulder to shoulder, eating all the different fruits that had been laid out in a heart shape for them.

I sat on the grass watching them and once again found myself wiping away tears. Tears of pride, relief, joy and exhaustion. This was an epic and emotional journey. From the moment I announced Nwon’s departure from BLES, to launching the fundraiser, to driving through the night to Surin, to seeing Phi Nit and Nwon being reunited, to being in the grass, at BLES watching Nwon live like a real elephant again… Every sleepless night, every critical comment, every stress filled minute – it was ALL worth it. I love what I do and will never stop fighting for a compassionate world.

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I can not thank everyone who played a part in bringing Nwon home to BLES enough. We would never have been able to liberate Nwon without you and your incredible support. Once again, the BLES family has proved what can be accomplished when a community of kind hearted and like minded people, come together. I am so proud of you all. I am so proud of Phi Nit, but most of all, I am so, so, so, proud of our beautiful old boy, Nwon.

Welcome home darling boy… We are your forever home now, your sanctuary and you are so loved xx

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Sontaya…

Once again, I am sitting here broken-hearted. Our sweet old girl, Sontaya, who’s health had started to decline in recent weeks, has passed away.

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Sontaya was such a gentle, sweet and loving soul. Her wisdom and grace, radiated from her beautiful, wrinkled (and hairy) face and everyone who had the honour of being in her presence, fell deeply in love with her.

We rescued Sontaya from a busy tourist camp in Pattaya, back in May 2016. Sontaya was thin and spent her days walking in circles, carrying heavy tourists on her protruding back bone. The nights did not provide much relief for Sontaya, as she was tied to a stake in the ground, on a very short chain, surrounded by piles of trash and burning dung and nothing to stare at but the numerous building sites and skyscrapers that litter the city of Pattaya.

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When we were contacted by the owners, it was clear that they loved her very much and wanted to do the right thing by Sontaya and retire her to BLES. We set about raising the funds and over 300 people donated towards saving Sontaya – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/sontaya-needs-saving/

The elephant world was smitten with Sontaya and her rescue was a huge celebration – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/sontaya-is-home/

Sontaya was with us for five months. One of the hardest realities that BLES has to come to terms with every time we rescue an elderly elephant, is that they probably will not be with us for very long. This is exactly why we are 100% committed to ensuring every single day that passes, is filled with freedom, friendship, peace, respect and love.

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Every single day with Sontaya was a gift.

Once again, we have been reminded that it isn’t about the length of time the elephants have with us… The most important thing, is that they are with us. That they get to live at least a small part of their life as they always should have. That they get to rediscover themselves and know what it is to be an elephant before they leave this world. This world, that has done so wrong by them… BLES is a sanctuary, but it is also my apology to the elephants. The first thing I say to an elephant that we find working in the tourism industry is, “I am so sorry” I founded BLES because I wanted to represent the human race and show the elephants how incredibly sorry we were for all we had done to them – snatching them from the wild, breaking their spirits, putting them to work, exploiting them and grinding them to death – just to name a few of the shameful things humans have done to elephants over the years….

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I had been away from BLES for two days on business and on the morning I was due back, I had frantic messages from Sontaya’s mahout, Dom, asking me to call. I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong with Sontaya and jumped in the car and started driving home. I spoke to David and Phi Sot, who said through tears, that Sontaya was weak and clearly letting go. I burst in to tears, told the driver to hurry and started praying for Sontaya.

As soon as I arrived at BLES, I went to Sontaya’s side. She was lying peacefully on the grass and there were no signs of her being stressed or struggling. The mahouts had rigged up some shade for her and I sat with her, rubbing my hands over her hollow temples, her kind face and down her soft trunk, whispering to her to let go. I told her how loved she was, how sorry I was and told her again, to let go… Sontaya took a deep breath and then did just that – she let go.

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We were all with her when she passed. Dom, her devoted and now heartbroken mahout, Phi Sot, our head mahout, David, my assistant and myself – we sat on the grass, surrounded by nature, surrounding Sontaya with as much love and respect as we could. She left this world knowing she was adored and appreciated and I think that is what we would ask for in our final moments of life.

Sontaya has been buried on the hill, behind Naamfon and Sao Noi. We sprinkled flowers petals in to her grave and over her body and Dom laid out an elaborate fruit feast for our darling Sontaya.

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The funeral was so moving and so fitting for our sweet old girl. As the monks chanted, our tears were kissed in sympathy by raindrops. As I sat, breathing in the smell of the rain, I closed my eyes and visualised Sontaya walking through the thick, long grass before us. Despite my tears and my heartache, I smiled, because at long last, Sontaya was truly free.

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Walk on Sontaya: Walk through the fields and forests and be free. Thank you for allowing us to be just a small piece of your long life. We will love you forever and I will think of you everyday, until the day we are reunited, as I watch the sunset over BLES.

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Sleep well sweet girl… Sweet dreams Sontaya xx

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I do not have the words….

“You never know how strong you really are, until being strong is the only choice you have”…

I am at a total loss for words right now.

I can not believe this.

I am confused, upset and angry – very, very, angry.

On the 1st December 2015, BLES welcomed four beautiful bulls in to our family. The bulls, Mr Moo, Sompord, Ngor and Nwon, were all local boys who’s owners could not afford to keep them anymore. The owners wanted their bulls retired and wanted them to live out the rest of their lives, enjoying freedom with us here at BLES – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/the-bulls-of-baan-tuek/

At least, this is what we were told.

There really is no easy way of sharing this news, so I am just going to be honest and announce that Nwon is no longer with us. Despite us working hard to maintain good and open relations, Nwon’s owners deceitfully and selfishly went behind our backs and sold him.

The owner did not even have the decency to tell the mahout that had cared for Nwon for the past eight years and we are stunned by her lack of respect and ability to cheat.

Those of you who know me, will know that I always try to see the best in people and try to see the good in every lesson, no matter how awful and trying it may be. This time, however, I am so mad. I can not believe that to this woman, Nwon meant nothing more than a lump sum of money.

The past ten months have been incredible. Each of the bulls have added so much diversity and strength to our rescued elephant family. It has taken them all different lengths of time to adjust and relax around our females and it has brought us all so much joy to watch them rediscover themselves. Nwon, was slow to integrate. He was eventually taken in by Pang Suai and Pang Noi and these last few months have been beyond joyful, watching the three of them freely and naturally interact with each other and bond.

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Of course, I am proud of all our elephants, but Nwon was so captivating and impressive. He had this intimidating air around him that had me infatuated. In just a few months, he had let go of his infamous aggressive nature and life of shackles. With the help of his faithful mahout, Phi Nit and his new found friends, Pang Suai and Pang Noi,  Nwon was emerging as a calm, strong and confident bull.

We loved Nwon – No. We love love Nwon and are genuinely heartbroken by this rude and totally unexpected departure. We have the contact information of his new owners and we have every intention of keeping in touch with them.

I am very aware that I am now going to have to deal with all your frustration and all I can do is accept the inevitable criticism and questions. Trusting people and believing they want the best for their animals might seem like a crazy notion to many of you, but this is how I have always managed BLES and despite this disappointing development, I will continue to conduct every future rescue, respectfully and with faith that we can all be trusted to be honest and open with each other. I refuse to change my principles, based on the behaviour of one hollow hearted human.

Since this sudden turn of events, we have spoken to the owners of the other three bulls, who assure us they have no intention of removing their bulls from BLES. I feel confident in their commitment to our partnership and feel positive about the future for them all.

We are planning on visiting Nwon as soon as we can and I will share an update, even though it will be upsetting…

I am so sorry for all of you. I am so sorry for Pang Suai and Pang Noi. I am so sorry for the BLES family and in particular, Phi Nit, who has now lost his job. Most of all, I am sorry Nwon. I wish there was a way to let you know how much we adored you and how devastated we are at all of this. If your owner had been honest with us, we could have saved you…. I will never turn my back on you and I have hope that you will come back to us again one day… Be strong beautiful boy – BE STRONG xx

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