The day I arrive to Chiang Mai, I am greeted with beautiful news:

Elephant Nature Park has a newborn baby boy.

Instantly, I feel my heart flutter at the idea of meeting a baby elephant and spending time with him, getting to know him.

Rajah Gajah surrounded by volunteers just after his arrival

The first time I head back to the elephants, I stand outside his large pen as he lays there, in desperate need of his mother’s milk. A few volunteers stand and sit around him, his tiny body laying nearly still on the dirt. They fan him, keeping the bugs away so they do not penetrate his very weak immune system.

His mother has rejected the little boy, trying to kill him once he was born. Immediately, he was removed from her side and taken to the park so he could have a chance at life.

But, his life is in jeopardy. Mom is nearly half-a-day away, and even though she is en route with the goal of getting milk from her, his chances are slim.

I stand at a distance, looking at the tiny boy, with his little pink mouth open, sleeping.

A few days later, I return to the park. This time, I am allowed in to pen to see him.

Lek Chailert consoles baby Rajah Gajah

Lek is with him, legs intertwined with his, singing Que Sera Sera to him. When a truck whirs by, he stirs and Lek leans over his body, covering his gray ears. I stand, fingers gripping the chain link fence, in silence.

He deserves his best shot at life. And, his best shot at life is most definitely here.

Lek and volunteers fan the baby elephant, keeping him free from bugs

Lek leans protectively over Rajah Gajah

Elephant and human feet mingle

Eventually, he teeters to his feet, tottering around in search of his milk bottle as he waves his short trunk awkwardly through the air.

The baby elephant, Rajah Gajah, tries a bottle from Lek.

Of course, I fight back tears as I watch this nearly helpless creature as he fumbles towards food.

He’s just so little. So at our mercy.

Rajah smells his mom's scent on Lek and tries to get milk

Rajah stands between a volunteer's legs, which mimic how he would be with his mother, and drinks a bottle

When I return a week later to the park, concern stretches deep over Lek’s face.

“He won’t eat and he has diarrhea,” she says softly from the wooden bench overlooking the vast land where the rest of her elephants roam freely. Lek just looks exhausted. She breathes heavy and sighs. “I am so worried he won’t make it.”

I try not to let that thought cross my mind.

There’s no way the team here will let the little guy slip away from us.

But, he does.

Only two weeks after he arrives at the park, five months premature, the baby, who takes on the name Rajah Gajah, slips into a coma and passes away. It is no one’s fault. He had round-the-clock care from vets, volunteers, staff, and Lek. He just wasn’t meant to be in this world. And, while the loss is heart-breaking, it reassures me to know that while he was on this earth, he was loved more than most animals could dream.

12 comments

    1. Andi, I was gutted when he passed away. Thanks for the compliment about the photos — I really wanted to be able to capture the love he had and the joy he brought others during his short life. ❤

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  1. So devastating. I would have cried for days. Sometimes Nature is like that. The same happens to humans too…I have heard of many sad stories. Fortunately life goes on, there are second chances…

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    1. You know, I knew earlier in the week that his prognosis was grim, but when I got the message he was in a coma, and later that he died, I was really crushed. I know people at the park who were with him around-the-clock and cannot even begin to imagine how gutted they were. You are right though, life does go on.

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