VolunTravel Blog – Volunteer Elephant World Part 3
My last week as a volunteer Elephant World participant
With sadness, I report that my time caring for the elephants at Elephant World is finished. My one month commitment as a volunteer Elephant World participant has come to a close. The last week I spent at the sanctuary was my favorite. We had less day trip tourists every day, and I had completely settled in to my surroundings.
I am going to miss Songkran, the oldest elephant, the most. I continued to protect her and her rice balls during her afternoon snack time. She moved into one of the sides of the new shelter that Elephants World built for its older elephants. When an elephant gets older, their skin gets quite thin. This causes them to get cold easily from rain, wind, and a drop in temperature. These older elephants will actually shiver just like a person. It’s very sad to witness!
Songkran is no spring chicken (73 years old), and she has the knowledge and wisdom of an owl. Late one night, she grabbed the wooden bars of the enclosure, and slid them aside with her trunk. Then, she was free to walk around the grounds of the sanctuary. She struck down part of the fence, and found the storage of dry food. She made a huge mess with a couple bags of raw rice and elephant pellets. During one afternoon, Songkran cleverly made an escape the same way she had before and stealthily came up right behind a mahout. She tapped the mahout on the shoulder with her trunk, then proceeded to eat the rice that had just been cooked that was cooling on the table. She loves her sticky rice!
We have an all blind elephant at the sanctuary, named Lam Duan. We think she is around 56 years old, but aren’t exactly sure. She was not used to bathing in “big water” (river), so it was always hard to get her into the river. At her last home, she was only sprayed off with water from a hose. Her mahout would try various methods to get her in to the water, but nothing was really working. One day, she just walked right in without any coaxing at all. So, my fellow volunteer, Janneke, and I jumped on the opportunity to give Lam Duan a good scrub down. We grabbed our brushes and jumped in the water after her. She didn’t have any problem with us washing her all over, she actually seemed to enjoy it! This was a huge step for Lam Duan, it made me feel like she was finally accepting Elephants World as her new home.
Daily life at the sanctuary is not easy. Some days we would get rice three times a day! Rice soup for breakfast, sticky rice and curry for lunch, and fried rice for dinner. Needless to say the rice portions I put on my plate got smaller and smaller each day. Electricity was not guaranteed every night. When we would get power for a couple of hours, everyone would have something to charge. It was a great day when we had running water and electricity on the same day. The water we had in our bungalows came up from the river, so it wasn’t clean water. Any little cut or scrape I would have took forever to heal because of the dirty water. Not only was I bathing in river water, but I was going in the river everyday to bath the elephants and wash dishes.
Nine times out of ten, when I would have an itch, it was actually some sort of bug on me. There are so many creepy crawly bugs, flying bugs, and things that slither. At dinner one night, everyone across the table from me said, “Crystal! Don’t move, don’t move!” I was a little freaked out, because I didn’t know what was on or around me. It turns out I had a scorpion on my shirt right over my left breast! I thought someone was going to come at me swinging a branch to get it off. I carefully grabbed my shirt on either side of the scorpion, and proceeded to fling it off. I breathed a sigh of relief after that incident, but it was not my only encounter with the scorpions.
I was cleaning sweet potatoes for the elephants when I reached into the bag and pulled out a potato with a scorpion on it. On a separate occasion, I went to turn on the faucet and there was a scorpion on the handle. I came across 2 of the poisonous red centipedes, during different nights. A green snake could be seen most days in one of the bathrooms. There were decent sized flying termite swarms that only made an appearance after it rained, but there would be hundreds of them. After the termite would mate it would shed its wings and die. Then, the frogs or toads (I am not sure which) would come out and eat all of the dead termites on the ground. Ah, the circle of life.
The month I spent at Elephants World, as a volunteer elephant world participant, is something I will never forget. Being face to face with elephants every day is, well, awesome. While caring for these magnificent creatures, I created emotional bonds with a few of them. I was mesmerized on a daily basis by the elephants intelligence. Gazing into the eyes of an elephant, you get a glimpse into their soul. I wish all the elephants at the sanctuary many years of health, happiness, and relaxation. I know that our paths will cross again, and I look forward to that day.