Las Vegas resident Diana Edelman recently hopped a long-haul flight to Asia. The goal? To volunteer at Elephant Nature Park in the mountains just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. After being inspired to learn more about elephant abuse thanks to reading Water for Elephants the PR practitioner and travel blogger did some research and found a place that offered what she was looking for: the opportunity to get up-close and personal with these gentle giants. For a week, Edelman lived among elephants, feeding them, bathing them, scooping their softball-sized droppings and learning more than she could ever expect not just about elephants, but about the elephant tourism industry in Thailand and other countries around the globe.
Yesterday morning, when I turned on my computer after a night of restlessness, my heart sank.
There, on the screen, were two Facebook status updates. One from the Elephant Nature Park & Foundation page stating Mae Sai Roong, an elephant our volunteer group had taken care of when she fell ill on Sept. 10, had taken a turn for the worst. Then, an update time stamped about five hours later from one of the staff with the words that made my cry aloud — “Dear Sai Roong, RIP.”
Mae Sai Roong had only been at the park for a little more than four months. An older girl, she spent her life in the logging and trekking industries, for the most part at elephant camps treating passengers to tick marks on their bucket lists by taking them for treks on her back. She was sold to people in Chiang Mai who had her go to a big elephant camp, and, a little while later, was transferred to smaller elephant camp near the park. Her owner was not happy with the way she was treated at the park, and decided to transfer her — yet again — to another park. However, her feet barely wanted to move after a live of giving rides, so the decision was made. It was time for Mae Sai Roong to retire. The owner, along with members of Elephant Nature Park,walked her the short distance from her current camp to her new home, the park. The walk took her three hours because, after years of trekking for tourists, her movements were so labored.
For more on Diana Edelman’s work with elephants in Thailand, follow her on DTravelsRound.com.