Daily Wanderlust: Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Since I now am an expat in Thailand, spending my days helping Save Elephant Foundation (which includes a healthy mix of visiting it’s flagship project, Elephant Nature Park), I have oh-so many photos of life here. Namely, life with elephants. Let’s face it, I could take photos of tuk tuks, views from my apartment and more, but what people probably want to see are more of the adorable elephants, right?

Well, here you go.

Mae Kham Paan loves her time in the river. She’s one of the only ones who takes it upon her self during bath time to reach her trunk into the river, soak up water and then shoot it out of her trunk and onto her back. The most awesome thing? She does it with a huge smile on her face. Swear.

Bath time at Elephant Nature Park

Destinations

In memory of Rajah Gajah

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.

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