Just outside Hua Hin is a small area called the Elephant Foundation. I have always wanted to get close up to an elephant and so my wish was granted on a visit to the foundation.
They look after elephants who have come to the end of their working life, elephants owners who cannot afford to keep them any more or abandoned baby elephants.
So there we are letting the toddler elephant run its trunk over us to check us out with the sensitive nerves in the tip of his trunk. It's a weird feeling as a trunk, hairy and sentient searches around my neck. The toddler finds me uninteresting which produces mixed feelings in me, relief and mild disappointment. He is more interested in the smells of my 2 male companions. We feed him some bananas, me tentatively, Jim with confidence, he's done this before. I must admit to some fear here, this toddler weighs in at a ton and he is only four years old. Should he nudge me I would go over like a piece of tissue paper and, with an ankle that is still not healed, I feel vulnerable.
Round the corner is a grand old lady looking formidable at ninety years old. (see above). She's big this grande dame and she stares down at us puny humans as we offer her bananas. Ninety years, what she must have seen in her lifetime. I am simultaneously amazed to be so close to these magnificent animals and so sad to see that they are chained to the ground and unable to walk more than a few paces.
They are fed, watered, bathed and kept healthy with regular medical check ups. All this is admirable with so many elephants killed for their tusks or hunted with guns as sport. These animals are safe from these dangers, safe but chained to the ground and elephants are normally constantly in motion. They don't sit to rest, they lean but mostly they're on the move unless they're eating. As I watch one of them constantly moving, taking a few steps forward and then being restrained by the chain, I don't know why but I begin to talk.
The elephant I am talking to (above) is forty years old and she's pregnant and is moving constantly as if she is agitated. I begin speaking by apologising to her, 'I am so sorry that you are chained like this.'
Is it my imagination or does she stop moving so much. Her face is wrinkled up, I continue. 'I'm sorry because there is nothing I can do. I can't unchain you, I am helpless too, but I want you to know how beautiful you are, what a magnificent creature you are.'
She is now completely still and her face smooths out, she seems to be listening. 'The good thing is that you are alive and healthy, the wrong thing is that you are chained and I am so sorry.'
She stands so still and the air is still, I can hear nothing except my own breathing. For a few moments we are both motionless and in a world of our own. 'Goodbye for now, I will come back soon and see you. You are magnificent, and I am sorry for the chains.'
I stand for a few moments more and we are in front of each other, both breathing both quiet and I feel honoured to be there.
I turn and see the others are staring at me. Am I a little mad, probably, but the moment was special, one of those times when time stands still, a moment of connection.
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