You can sense their presence in the tangled jungle. The ground trembles. Branches crack. Snorts and grunts vibrate through the air. Then across the riverbank three majestic beasts appear with grace and ease.
All creatures are magnificent, however the elephant is simply awesome. Beyond their sheer size, intelligence, and social structure, their capacity to experience a range of interwoven human-like emotions is extraordinary. Humans do not corner the market on emotions. We could learn a thing or two about empathy, sympathy and compassion from these noble creatures.
While staying in Luang Prabang a day trip took me north, along the banks of the Nam Khan River, to MandaLao Elephant Conservation. MandaLao is a 200 acre park promoting the humane and ethical treatment of elephants across Laos and beyond. There are no elephant tricks preformed here, no rides or exploitation of any kind, only education and loving care are offered.
MandaLao came into being last year by an enterprising American, Michael Vogler. The day to day operation is run by an elegant Thai gentleman named Prasop. His thirty years of experience working with elephants was apparent during his morning talk.
Prasop explained the plight of modern elephants and the efforts that are being made to protect them. He discussed their social structure and that elephants are highly social creatures, needing much attention and care. Each elephant at MandaLao is assigned a keeper, called a Mahout. These young boys bond with their elephants, gaining a deep, almost spiritual relationship like no other. The mahout become the eyes and ears of the elephant, detecting illness or injury.
After a brief orientation I slipped on a pair of lightweight, deep tread boots, ready for the day’s muddy hike. I was accompanied by husband Robert, and a mother and daughter from Wyoming. We crossed the river on a long-tail boat, to meet our jumbo companions for the day: Grandma, mom and baby Kit, a bouncing, inquisitive and willful 2 year old male.
Our trio of pachyderms led us into the jungle, through rice fields and along a river’s edge. Kit splashed and frolicked through the water, wrestled with logs, scratched himself on boulders, and he mimicked what mom and granny did. I felt so insignificant next to these imposing creatures. They seem to carry the wisdom of the ages within their soulful, deep-set eyes.
With ears flapping, Kit made his presence known. Somehow he knew he would one day grow into an impressive male, carrying on his noble lineage. But first, he needed to stop and nurse.
Lao people have always had a deep connection with the elephants that roamed their land. Laos became known as “Land of One Million Elephants” but sadly their population has dwindled to only 3000.
The good news is the population is no longer in decline. Conservation efforts towards elephants are increasing across Southeast Asia. The exploitation of these beasts is finally being addressed. Animals are being liberated from logging camps, taken off the streets of Bangkok as tourist attractions, and rescued from the wild when orphaned. Some are even being prepared to go back into the wild, while others stay in sanctuaries with their mahouts.
Can you imagine a world without elephants? I can’t. I want my grandson to see these awe-inspiring animals in person. I want him to feel their magnificence, and be humbled by them. I will support organizations like MandaLao Elephant Conservation, www.mandalaotours.com and continue to spread the word about the humanitarian efforts that still need to be implemented.
There is so much in our world that needs to change. Where does one begin? If one wants change start with educating yourself, followed by setting an intention, then putting that intention into action.
If we all took a little action, change would follow.
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