The Sweetest Elephant Ever – ‘Granny’ Thong Dee

Every now and then, you meet a soul that shines, a spirit that soars and a being, that despite all the cruelties life has thrown her way, is sweet and full of love…


Thong Dee was the sweetest elephant we have ever known here at BLES and I am still wiping away tears and shaking my head in disbelief, as I find myself sitting here, sharing the news of her passing…

Thong Dee was rescued by BLES, two and a half years ago. Her owners, who loved Thong Dee dearly, could see that she was getting too old and weak to continue giving rides to tourists. They, themselves, were also tired of camp life and so reached out to BLES and asked for our help.

Since her very first day at BLES, it was obvious that Thong Dee was warm hearted and had not let the cruelities of camp life, harden her in any way. She was playful, social and oh, so, curious!


Thong Dee quickly became a favourite with the mahouts. They all admit to having a soft spot for her and my two eldest sons, Noah and Arron, adored her so much, they always called her, ‘Granny’… Whenever not at school, they would go walking with her in the forest, cut down food for her and watch her gently move through the forest.


Thong Dee’s death, has hit us all incredibly hard, but my sons have been left inconsolable…


It was a hot afternoon and Dom, Thong Dee’s mahout, had been out walking with her. She had spent some time soaking her feet in the stream and throwing mud over her back. When she was ready, she turned towards one of the many hills surrounding our sanctuary and started to slowly, but steadily climb it.  Dom, tried to convince her to stay near the stream, but Thong Dee was determined and so Dom stood back and let her go. As she eventually disappeared in to the bushes, Dom, who was following her from a distance, saw her pause for a few minutes, as if she was looking for someone. Thong Dee took a few more steps up the hill and then turned to look at him, as he lay herself down on the soft, damp ground.

Dom instantly knew that something was wrong and so called me to let me know that Thong Dee was down. Phi Sot, Noah, Arron and I, jumped on a motorbike and sped through the forest, desperately trying to find them. When we did get to where Dom and Thong Dee were, Noah and Arron ran to her, and dropped to their knees beside her. She raised her trunk and reached out to them both, as they sobbed and begged her not to leave them. Noah buried his little face in to her and in whispered tones, that only Thong Dee could hear, he started praying. Arron, who had wrapped his little arms as tight as he could around her, removed the Buddah from his neck and placed it on her head.

After a few minutes, Phi Sot called the boys, saying it was time to head back home. Noah, who is eight and Arron, who is five, silently stood, wiped the tears from their faces and bowed their heads in respect, to their much loved granny. Thong Dee, raised the end of her trunk again and let out a deep breath…

I hugged my sons, kissed them both and told them how proud I was of them. Phi Sot put a protective arm around them both and ushered them back down the hill.

Dom, who had been sitting in the bushes, watching, gave me a broken smile and a nod, which I understood to mean that he needed to distance himself from the heartfelt  emotions that were racing around.

And so I sat, on my own, at the top of that hill, holding Thong Dee’s beautiful trunk in my hands. I could still hear Noah and Arron crying. They had only been gone a minute or so and then all of a sudden, Thong Dee’s grip tightened around my hands and her body started to shake. Within a few seconds, the shaking ceased and she let go…

Could it be that she was holding on to say goodbye to the boys? Could it be that once they left, she felt at peace enough to finally pass? Well, I believe so and I believe it with all of my heart.

After a few minutes of just being with Thong Dee, breathing in the power of her passing and appreciating the beauty that surrounded us, I softly called for Dom. Red eyed, he came. No words were needed… He knew she was gone and as he stood, staring at her lying lifelessly on the ground, he quietly asked me if any other elephant had ever died up where we were. I smiled and told him about Beautiful Boon Mee, who had died in almost the exact spot that Thong Dee chose to be her final resting place. Boon Mee had been one of our orignial rescues and at the grand age of 84, Boon Mee, just like Thong Dee, had walked herself up the same hill and lay herself down to rest. I asked him why and his reply stunned me. He said he felt like Thong Dee was looking for a long, lost friend…

We have no way of knowing if Boon Mee, who passed away seven years ago and Thong Dee had known each other. It is highly possible they could have worked together at some point over the years, but we will never, truly know…

Thong Dee has been buried right beside Boon Mee and it makes me smile, to think of them both, being together…. Maybe they were family… Maybe they were friends… It doesnt really matter. Now, they are angels, forever in our hearts.


(Pang Noi, Pang Suai and Sompord, stand by Thong Dee and Boon Mee’s burial sites, the day after Thong Dee’s passing)

BLES your beautiful heart and soul Thong Dee…. You have left this world a brighter place and we are better beings, because of you.


We will always love you.




Plai Tong Jai – Forever Loved

Eleven years ago, Anon and I overheard an old man complaining about his ‘stupid and lazy’ elephant. Anon approached the old man, introduced himself and asked if we could go to see his elephant. The old man eventually agreed and together, we embarked on a life changing journey….

Tong Jai, meaning heart of gold, was deep out in the forest, when we found him. He was emaciated, depressed and had a badly infected, large, maggot infested wound, on his spine.

It was clear that Tong Jai needed our help. We set straight to work and were able to successfully relocate Tong Jai to BLES, in no time at all.

Tong Jai’s skeletal frame, was covered in puncture wounds, scars and even bullets. His ears were torn and cut and his skin was dry and damaged. A visiting vet examined Tong Jai and claimed that he wouldnt live longer than three months. Locals laughed at us, telling us we had wasted our money and some people nicknamed him the ‘Ugly’ elephant.


Anon and I ignored them all and surrounded Tong Jai with all the love and compassion we could. Anon became Tong Jai’s key caregiver and the two of them quickly developed a deep devotion to each other. Their relationship was unique and under Anon’s unwavering care, Tong Jai began to thrive. He slowly gained weight, he started going in to musth, his physical and physcoligical wounds healed and he started to socialise with our other rescued elephants. By trusting in Anon, Tong Jai was able to be a true elephant once more.


Over the past eleven years, Tong Jai’s health took many turns. Anon was always right there, faithfully beside him, often caring for him around the clock, through the night, come rain or shine.


Friends, it is with a very heavy ache in my soul, that I share the news of Tong Jai’s passing.

Tong Jai had been slowing down and losing weight three weeks prior to his death. We could all see that his impressive old age, (late seventies) and the cruelties of captivity, were finally taking their eternal toll on him.

Tong Jai passed away so peacefully. Anon and Tong Jai had been out slowly walking through the forest, grazing and dusting. Tong Jai didnt walk far or eat much, but he was at peace and in control of his life. He spent the afternoon lying in the pond, every now and then blowing cool water over his boney body. Anon and Tong Jai then walked home, taking their time to appreciate every moment, completely at ease in each other’s company. Tong Jai  found himself a comfortable place to lie down and as the sun set, Anon lit a small fire beside him, to help warm his worn out body.

Two hours later, Tong Jai’s steady breathing slowed and then stopped. His eyes were closed and his huge body was glowing from the warm light of the fire. Anon and I sat with him, telling him how loved and cherished he was. We reminisced about all the years gone by and all the treasured memories we now had, thanks to Tong Jai. We both wiped away tears, as we waited for the eventual and inevitable passing of our friend.

Tong Jai’s time with us, was such a gift. We were honoured to have been able to provide him with true sanctuary and see him thrive.


Over the past eleven years, Tong Jai became a much loved part of our family. He was a living legend, who evoked awe inspiring emotions, if you were ever lucky enough to be in his company. He had a presence like no other bull and seeing him stride through the sanctuary, literally made you hold your breath…


And so we say goodbye, to a truly wonderful being, who taught us the importance of staying strong, the beauty of proving people wrong and the power of trusting in friendship.

BLES your beautiful heart Tong Jai… Forever in our hearts – Forever loved xx