This week is all Elephant Nature Park (ENP), all the time. Every day will be a detailed post on a day or two of the seven days I spent at the park in February 2013. I hope that those researching volunteer opportunities will find the detail helpful in determining if this is a week and $400 they want to sign up for. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it! Once again, thanks so much to donors who made this week possible. For more info on the ENP, you can visit their site here and learn more about the individual elephants here.
Ele poo duty today! We carted wheelbarrows, shovels, pitchforks, and a couple rakes out to the shelters where the elephants sleep. They were off bathing and eating and generally having a good time, so we were free to shovel it all in to the wheelbarrows—softball-sized turds and the green leaves covering them. Some of those leaves were the corn we’d cut for them; eles only digest 40% of what they eat, apparently. There are a lot of jobs that are tough on the back here, and shoveling shit is one of them. We collected from piles around the different shelters, and a couple people worked up an “Every day I’m shoveling, shoveling” line to that wretched LMFAO song, and we all did little dances with our farm implements.
We saw Hope across the river. Hope is an adolescent male who just can’t get over his hormonal ways, and they call him “naughty boy” here—along with Jungle Boy, who also has to be chained separately and watched carefully so he doesn’t try to mount the females. One day after lunch, one of the young bulls knocked down an entire wooden shelter. We all heard an almighty crash and when we looked up, a few young elephants were casually walking away from the demolished shelter, clouds of dust rising in the air. There’s always something exciting going on here.
After lunch, we unloaded a truckful of green bananas, the bunches of which were carefully counted so we could pay the farmer correctly. 90% of the food here is from organic farmers in the area, 5% is grown by the park, and 5% is from markets in Chiang Mai.
We went on a walk with Jane in the afternoon. We took a couple of bunches of bananas each, so we could feed the eles we met along the way. We stopped by Navaan and his mother in their concrete sleeping area. The mother’s foot was mutilated when she stepped on a land mine. We fed her but not Navaan, because at three months old, he’s still on a diet of mother’s milk only.
We walked out to see Jungle Boy, but before we got even a little bit close, we had to back off, because he roared at us when we were at least 100 yards away. An elephant roar is an amazing sound—a low, guttural noise that crescendos to an almost howl. It’s different from trumpeting, which is a sound they make when they’re concerned about something but not yet angry.
We had to trot a bit as Mae Perm walked over to us, with her mahout too far behind to keep her in place. Then Jokia, faithful friend of Mae Perm, joined us, and we fed the two of them and stroked their trunks. These two are always together. Jokia was blinded by her former owners, and Mae Perm acts as her eyes and guardian.
We went down to a mahout hut, where some of them sat in the shade watching 7 or 8 eles gather a little down the way, next to the river. We watched people riding eles on the horizon, at the edge of the property where some of the resorts are. It was striking to see the difference between those downcast beasts of burden and the herd peacefully grazing near us.
On our fifth day of work, we had ele food duty. The elephant kitchen is a smallish platform (everything but the kitchen for human food and sleeping rooms is open air here), with long metal shelves holding pineapples, small watermelons, and bananas. The trough was full of purple water—the purple is some kind of cleaning agent because although the farms they buy from are organic, nearby ones may not be, and pesticides drift. We did a quick 1-2-3-4 scrub around each melon and pineapple and put them in baskets. A plank of wood was laid across a chair and used as a chopping board as a couple fellow volunteers got to slicing and dicing.
Once our hands were dyed a yellowish-brown that made us look jaundiced, we picked yellow bananas off bunches and put them individually into two large baskets. Next, we helped two employees take green bananas off the shelves and pile them in a large tarp, presumably so they can ripen. Meanwhile, a few people sat on the floor, peeled bananas, and mashed them up in tubs. Then they added rice flour, crushed corn, and salt, and mixed it all up. They formed that mash into large balls for the older and sicker eles who have trouble handling solid foods. We were grooving to Chet’s laptop for the whole morning—Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, club hits. Everything’s better with a dose of Kelly Clarkson.
Good thing the morning job was easy, because the afternoon job was terrible. Poles ‘n’ holes—and yes, we did snigger when we said it. Earlier in the week, the other volunteer groups had dug holes around a sad-looking little tree protected by a barbed-wire fence. The park is mostly empty of trees, and of course Asian elephants thrive in jungles, so the ENP is slowly trying to add more trees. But the elephants tend to tear down the slim trees that dot the park, so the park workers put up barbed wire fences around the trees to protect them, and they’ve started building stone pylons around them as well. That’s what we were making today.
We mixed up water, sand, and cement, and took buckets of the cement over to the holes. We poured some cement, stacked large rocks in a square around the metal grid forming the backbone of the pylon, layered on more cement, and stacked more rocks on top. The pylons are also used as scratching posts by the elephants, so the rocks have to stick out for easier scratching.
Some of us went around near the river and picked up rocks to add to the piles back by the tree. It was hot, and the work was tedious, and we kept looking at the machinery down the other end of the park and wondering if this couldn’t all be done a lot faster if they just used those. Oh well, as we reminded ourselves any time the work was rough, it’s all for the elephants!