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What’d take to become a Saint?

By John Roberts
24 July 2016 04:27:00

Nobody (except politicians it seems) like to be disliked, no-one likes to be criticised, it’s a human trait and, well, with more and more people seemingly expert in looking after elephants it seems my ideas for trying to help elephants by looking after mahouts have recently opened my colleagues and myself to some criticism.

So, I decided to look into what it would take to become a saint.

I think it would be OK, I think it could be done with a little money (& money for this sort of canonisation can be raised).  

We have, according to Google Earth, 137ha of good forest land, a perimeter of 6.4 km.

We could, with some engineering difficulty, throw up an electric fence and just let the elephants roam free, throw them food from a different place each day at random times, guest experience would be viewing them from the Restaurants (as they do now during the day when the eles get their free roaming time) or taking driving ‘safaris’ to go and see them, as is done on our wild elephant projects at Kui Buri in Thailand or on Randilen in Tanzania (our other wild elephant projects are a long way from tourism centres).

I could sit back and polish my halo, done what we’ve always done so well, taken other folks’ ideas and improved on them.  I imagine the plaudits would be thick, the awards fast.

What would it take?

Money, a whole lot of spendin’ money.  But as I said, this can be raised for a canonisation and as I’d now be a saint perhaps our donors would forgive us spending a bit of the money we raised on ourselves for a change instead of the ‘bigger picture’ projects we currently fund to help wild and other people’s captive eles.

What then?  Well, of the 22 elephants we have on site three are comfortable free roaming without supervision, two more mahouts are comfortable with loose supervision and three more eles are comfortable with the idea themselves but are aggressive with other elephants (don’t forget none of our elephants is related and all are from places where they have had problems in the past, logging camps or street begging and such - many have the scars, mental & physical, to prove it.  Plus anyone who has spent time watching wild herds meet will tell you that aggression between elephants is part of the game, pecking orders maintained and herds broken up and occasionally reformed - in the wild there’s room to escape, we don’t have that, we’d have to have ‘no agression’ rules).  The rest?  Free roaming can be achieved but the mahouts insist on very close supervision.

In order to ensure we’re not encouraging the trade in wild elephants we keep mahouts and elephants together (this also better as it keeps a steady relationship for an elephant when everything else changes) when we bring the eles from less than ideal circumstances so, quite apart from elephant suitability, what the mahouts think and believe is very important.

Realistically I could probably persuade five elephants to go along with this.  

No matter!  There are back ups nowadays, the eles can always go back to Ban Ta Klang or to a Pattaya Trekking Camp, it’s not always necessary to go back to street begging for the mahouts to make a living.

But we’d need more than five elephants to make it work (don’t forget, we’d be no longer a camp designed to help out-of-work elephants help themselves but a camp with a grand design and a marketing plan) so I’d get to do one of my favourite things - drive around Thailand and look at elephants.

Perhaps I’d go to Mae Salieng close to the Burmese border where, for some reason, the elephants are cheap, perhaps I’d go to the trekking centres and identify some elephants that would fit our profile - perhaps we could go for old, docile ones (another upside of this is we’d help the absolve the mahout of his responsibility for looking after an elephant who has served him for a lifetime into her dotage & retirement).

We’d have to buy, of course, as letting elephants roam free is not something that comes naturally to most mahouts (it has actually been done in the North of Thailand/Myanmar/India/Laos for millennia during ‘non-work’ times but now the forests are cut down & I’ve not met an owner who wants to do it outside his home village).  Besides the rumour is out there that once an elephant has been free roaming it becomes more difficult to handle, owners nowadays don’t want that sort of elephant back.

It would be expensive but we’d be a unique tourist activity, I’m sure my bosses would back me and the donors wouldn’t mind not helping the wild elephants, they're out of sight & out of mind anyway.  We’d have 10 - 15 elephants making their own choices on our small plot of land.

Think about it, we’d be heroes.

But think again.  To do this I’d send 16 elephants from the good life here back to the worse life they knew before, I’m talking about buying 10 elephants and - you guessed it - what do we know about a mahout with money in his pocket and no elephant?  We know he buys another elephant.  Which may be taken from the wild, may be split prematurely from it’s mother - both times trained, of course not all training is torture but it seems that to keep my saint-hood I’ll have to pretend it is - either way another elephant will be caught or bred to replace the one I bought and that will be more elephants in captivity.

Perhaps I could even semi-retire, we wouldn’t even have a mini-mahout village anymore, wouldn’t need them except a couple of guys to fix fences.  Perhaps we’d keep a vet, they’re not too much trouble, don’t know why more people don’t have them - we could train the elephants to come to a veterinary area through target training, I guess we’d have a duty to keep them healthy and wounds cleaned, foots cared but we wouldn’t want to interfere too much.

If I’m honest it would be a welcome relief not to always be considering the remaining 4,301 elephants in Thai captivity, let alone the wild ones.  Perhaps I’d have more time to concentrate on my blog?  

Relax!  I won’t subject you to that, you can keep your halo for now.  

We DO give elephants a good life here, natural setting and fodder, as much roaming time as feasible - and this increases as time passes and mahouts see fewer downsides, more upsides; as much as I love the idea of semi-wild elephants we won't be taking these steps here until we can see a way of doing it without harming more elephants than we help to do otherwise would be over-reacting.

The odd peice of criticism?  I'll just have to handle that.

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