The chore du jour was peeling the husks off sacks and sacks of corn in the elephant kitchen. The silk from the corn must be removed so it doesn’t disturb the elephants’ digestive systems. For this, Chet wore a lovely little number featuring a net singlet, black shorts, black silver-tipped collar and a beautiful bling ring to suit. Gumboots completed this gorgeous ensemble, and his presence lit up the kitchen in the most glorious, if eclectic, way. More word games helped keep the boredom away while furthering our literary abilities, and we emerged a couple of hours or so later just slightly more educated than when we went in.
Just as lunch was arriving I wandered outside and saw Medo and Mae Lanna over by the river. I called out hello and Mae Lanna plodded over to visit me. Keeping a large stone pillar between us, I decided to practice the Buddhist “Om” chant to see what she would do. She seemed to enjoy it and stood there listening quietly, trunk resting on the pillar, while I sort of hummed in what I hoped was a melodious manner. I’m not sure how much time went by, as I think I actually managed to put myself into a wee bit of a trance, while looking up at the very polite beastie a foot or so away who didn’t interrupt once nor criticize my wee performance. Bless her pachyderm heart. We then indulged in a little bit of trunk scratching and I whispered goodbye and walked up the steps. I turned and looked around and Mae Lanna just stood there silently for another five full minutes. That’s when I took this photo –
After lunch I went to the gift shop to buy my daughter’s twenty-first birthday present. I pride myself on giving unusual and unpredictable presents for my kids, which of course means I have to strain my thinking matter harder over it every year. And this being my youngest’s very special admittance into adulthood, I had to come up with a doozie this time. I decided that since it was through her suggestion that I was at Elephant Nature Park in the first place, the least I could do was buy her an elephant. Hey, who’s going to predict that one, right? So out I came with a year’s worth of fostering of the beautiful Medo, one of the worst-injured elephants in the Park, who patiently swings her badly crippled leg and rolls her back end to get around. My daughter was about to become the foster mother of a member of World’s Largest Earth-Walking Mammal Club. Thank God I didn’t have to wrap the actual elephant – half a forest would have suffered for that. It was organized so that she would receive her foster-mother papers and regular updates starting on her birthday, and in exchange the Park would receive financial help in feeding Medo for the next year. I confess to feeling just a little smug about my latest birthday gifting effort and walking away thinking “Mwahaha – she won’t see THAT one coming!”
Hanging around the feeding platform afterwards, I took a few photos of one of the little boys that lives at the Park practicing his charm on a few of the female volunteers, while one of the mahouts pretended to put him in a fruit basket then tied a banana to the back of his pants so that he had a tail like an elephant. What a wonderful life for a child, hanging out with a wide variety of animals and meeting new people from around the world every day.
In the afternoon all the volunters gathered at the ele compound to get group photos taken. This meant that our ‘Camp Leaders’ had to juggle several cameras each and make sure everyone had a group shot of their own to take home. Naturally Chet got very creative over the matter, including making tiger poses (don’t ask me…), using foliage to shoot through and all manner of ideas to make things just a little more interesting. A few elephants were brought in to pose behind the groups, and I must say that after a week’s training in pachyderm vacinity safety measures, it was a little alarming to turn one’s back to these leviathans and not be able to see what they were doing. The mahouts had it under control though and we all had a great old time modeling and playing it up for the cameras.
I had another nice little snooze with our little cat friend for a while, then heard that Lek was going to do her thing with Faa Mai, in which she sings her a lullaby and swings a shirt or something similar around her, mimicking an elephant mother’s tail, putting Faa Mai into a sleep. Did you know that when young elephants go to sleep their tongues often hang out of their mouths? It’s pretty cute. And I can see why Faa Mai adores Lek so much – she really is like her human mummy. They have a very special relationship, those two.
Lek gave us a talk in the conference room. She asked that we please not support elephant shows, as the elephants are very unhappy and if we must have an elephant ride, refuse to ride an elephant that is sick or pregnant. Also, if we see a mahout hitting an elephant to please make a complaint. Preferably, let the elephants live in peace, and write to editors of guidebooks asking them to take out pages that suggest where to find elephant shows. We learned that often when the elephants are doing a painting in a show, there is a mahout standing beside it with a nail hidden in his hand, using it to prompt the elephant. Pretty sickening stuff to find out, but it’s better that we do so we can pass this information on to others so that they can do the same and we all, as tourists, make more ethical choices.
That night the Park put on a party and we ate traditional hill tribe food and watched the locals do a variety of traditional dances. In one of them a man and a woman put on masks and danced with candles – very beautiful and dramatic looking. Later, a few mandatory drinks went down in the dining area, against a background various sources of music and beautiful lights cheering up the trees in the atrium. A great time was had by all, while a certain amount of poignancy entered into our final night at ENP. And for the last time we then climbed into bed and listened to our pachyderm friends chew and snuffle in their own bedrooms, outside our windows. Day 6 at ENP was over.