DawnWatch: Terrific WBUR piece on Thai elephant torture and sanctuary — 6/30 but on line now

July 12th, 2006 11:55 pm by Kelly Garbato

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Jul 9, 2006 6:29 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: Terrific WBUR piece on Thai elephant torture and sanctuary — 6/30 but on line now

Though it aired on Boston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR, over a week ago, on Friday June 30 (and unfortunately got lost over my July 4 long weekend) I wanted to make sure people got a chance to hear Christina Russo’s terrific report on an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, run by an activist named Lek, who was named as one of Time Magazine’s Asian heroes of 2005.

You can listen to the show on line at http://www.wbur.org/news/2006/59106_20060630.asp and also view 24 wonderful photos from Russo’s trip to the sanctuary — click on “Elephant Nature Park Photos.”

The story tells us that though wild elephants in Thailand are protected, the 2,000 domesticated elephants there have no protection. Most work in tourism at elephant tourist camps, giving rides or performing.

Lek says, “Even sick elephants are used, many of them handicapped, some of them dying.”

Lek opened the Elephant Nature Park, a 40 acre private sanctuary for abused domestic elephants, currently giving sanctuary to 28 elephants. Instead of giving rides, the Lek lets tourists volunteer and help care for the elephants.

The volunteer coordinator at the park says, “We want people to change their perception of the Asian elephant. For example, people will pay a lot of money to go see elephants at reserves or national parks in Africa. You don’t touch them, you just enjoy them for the beauty that they are. Here, because of the domesticity of these animals, people don’t think twice about coming to see a show or have a ride.”

We meet 40 year old Maximus, the biggest elephant in Thailand. We hear from his caretaker that first he was used as a performing elephant and then to give rides: “And Max apparently didn’t take to it very well and he threw the people off his back, so Max, in the owner’s own words, was beaten and shot all over his body. The owner then sold Max to some monks who kept him chained up by all four legs outside their temple with a donation box in front for three years.”

Russo continues, “The monks sold him off to be a begging elephant in Bangkok. One night when Max was walking home a logging truck hit him, breaking his leg. A wealthy family then adopted Max as a backyard pet, until Lek rescued him.”
Max’s caretaker says, “Most people laughed at her for wanting to buy him because he didn’t look like he was going to survive very long. Three years later he is big and strong and I hope happy but very healthy.

Lek says that many of the elephants arriving are like Max: “Some of them have totally lost their mind, they walk in here like zombies, their eyes empty, they don’t hear anything.”

We hear about the nearby elephant tourist camp where “six elephants are chained to trees on a garbage strewn plot of land” as excited tourists get ready for an elephant ride. We hear from one tourist who says that she doesn’t think the elephants want to be ridden and who opted out of the elephant ride on her tour.

Then we learn about the process of elephant domestication called “Phaajaan,” which translates into “Crush,” in which “Young elephants are taken from their mothers, bound, caged, and violently beaten for up to two weeks.”

Lek was featured in a National Geographic documentary, in which Phaajaan was shown. In this radio segment, we hear the soundtrack from a few seconds of the film:
“A rope goes over the young female and the Phaajaan begins. She is tied into a cage where she barely fits. Whenever she struggles she is beaten.” We hear the baby elephant screaming.

We learn that after viewing the footage, PETA called for a boycott of Thailand, and anger turned against Lek. In a heart-rending segment, we hear Lek describe the death of a beloved baby elephant, intentionally poisoned by those trying to scare Lek into abandoning her work.

Finally Lek shares her vision for the future:

“I close my eyes and dream and see thick forests and my elephants are talking, and playing in the mud anytime they like. No work, no chains, no human to control them, and they can walk freely anywhere in the jungle.”

The twelve minute piece is well worth listening to, at the link above — and do look at the photos. Even though it aired a week ago, since it is still available on the Web, it is worthwhile for us to let WBUR know it is being listened to and appreciated. So please send the station a quick thank you. Positive feedback for animal friendly coverage will encourage more of it.

WBUR takes comments at http://www.wbur.org/contactus/

Yours and the animals’,
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. To unsubscribe, go to http://www.dawnwatch.com/cgi-bin/dada/dawnwatch_unsubscribe.cgi
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