Elephant Sleepover

Day 7 – February 7, 2014
Baan Tha Klang, Thailand
Surin Project Homestay

After another delicious breakfast we all set about our morning jobs for the last time. Armed with rakes our group gathered up all the dried sugar cane from the elephant enclosure and piled it up for another group to take away.

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(photo by the Surin Elephant Project)

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Next up was poop. Specifically cleaning all the poop from the enclosure and depositing it in a giant poop bin. Today also happens to be Ashley’s birthday and I’m sure of all the things in the world she thought she’d be doing today she never imagined cleaning up giant piles of poop!

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(photo by the Surin Elephant Project)

One semi-permanent resident of the enclosure is the Old Lady. She’s a beauty at 80 years old and though she’s now blind she’s still in pretty good health and enjoys eating (with all her teeth) and swimming.

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There used to be five older elephants with the Project but the Old Lady is the only one that remains, which seems to suit her fine. We were told that even when all five were together they didn’t really socialize much and instead preferred to hang out by themselves, possibly due to the fact they had spent the majority of their lives alone and didn’t know how to make friends.

In the afternoon we enjoyed another lovely walk in the forest with the ele’s before being sent off to pack for our overnight camping trip. The Project provided tents and sleeping bags so we really only had to pack a pillow from our homestay and whatever clothes and snacks we wanted to bring. I’m a bit of a wimp so I also took the blanket from my homestay for a bit of extra padding.

After lunch we set out for the 45 minute hike to the campsite.

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The ele’s were in a bit of a playful mood and stopped often for snacks and splashes in the rice paddies.

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There’s no better sounds in the world than the squeaks of a happy elephant, their low rumble greeting and loud trumpet call. I could sit and listen to them talk to each other all day.

When we made it to the campsite some of the elephants wandered to the water to cool off and wash off after the dusty walk.

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Meanwhile, the rest of us set up our tents and got ready for dinner.

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A big blanket was set on the shore and a huge stack of firewood was piled high. We ate while the sun set with the sounds of happy elephants behind us. For safety reasons while camping the elephants are chained up, but their chains are quite long and they are chained within their friendship groups.

Because it was Ashley’s birthday the Project had a little surprise planned for her that I can take no credit for at all. Cakes are hard to come by so they presented her with a tray of desserts and lit candles while we all sang Happy Birthday and she blushed. The mahouts had all signed a card for her inside a little gift bag which of course had a picture of an elephant on the front. It was so sweet and unexpected and I know Ashley was touched by their thoughtfulness.

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(photo by the Surin Elephant Project)

In the evening we put on a very short farang (foreigner) show for the mahouts, like a talent show but we were distinctly lacking the talent part, and then the Project auctioned off some handmade pieces that the mahouts had donated. Up was four elephant footprints, four mahout memory books, a couple t-shirts, a traditional Gwi scarf and a machete. The money raised goes into a fund that the mahouts can borrow from instead of going to a bank and paying a high interest rate. It’s a great cause and through quick bidding we ended up raising over 15,000 baht (over $450).

After the auction the younger group of volunteers that was with the Project started drinking and carrying on so I headed to my tent which was a bit aways from the group and laid in the dark, listening to the rustling in the distance. It brought back memories of camping in Africa and falling asleep to the sounds of nature right outside my tent.

To learn more about the Surin Elephant Project please visit their website.

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