As many friends know, while still in Canada a documentary about a small elephant named Mosha who had the misfortune of stepping on a landmine truly touched my heart. Visiting the lovely Friends of Asian Elephant (FAE) Hospital became a must-stop destination on my travel list for Thailand.
I wasn’t entirely certain how to get there but knew it was along Highway 11, so I jumped on the bus from Chiang Mai to Lampang and asked the driver to drop me off on the way. After drawing a few terrible photos of elephants and trying to explain “elephant hospital” in hand motions (charades has never been my forte), I found myself in front of the sign on the highway. As I walked up the gravel road to FAE, I could barely contain my excitement - I had actually made it to Mosha’s home!
As soon as I arrived I knew I was going to love it. I had emailed in advance, and I was met with warm greetings from the staff and Michael, a volunteer from L.A. spending a month at FAE. Almost immediately, the hard-working and extremely lovely Dr. Kay invited me to watch as she performed two procedures: inserting a glucose drip for a malnourished elephant, and applying anaethetic to a recently admitted landmine victim. As Dr. Kay and Dr. Jalon (who I understand to have spent three sleepless nights changing the drips for the malnourished patient) tenderly inserted the IV into his ear and rinsed/applied ointment to the landmine victim’s wound, it was impossible to miss how much each of the staff members at FAE truly cared for these patients in the world’s first elephant hospital.
(Dr. Kay and IV insertion)
This sentiment carried throughout the day, as I stumbled upon Dante (little rascal baby elephant who loves to play tug of war with his trunk and then whack you on the head when you get close enough) and his mother during bath time. The mahouts (elephant trainers) live at FAE, and truly treat their elephants as if they are their own children. The elephants absolutely love bath time, and even though Dante is a brat and would grab the hose and run away with it, you could tell the mahout put in more effort than was necessary to get the little guy clean.
I was especially touched by the relationship between baby Mosha (just as cute in real life) and her mahout. I was so, so pleased to see her perform her sneaky tricks, such as reaching her trunk out and turning on the tap when she wants a drink, just to leave it running, and then turn it back on once her mahout turned it off. After I fed her a massive bunch of bananas, she lay down on her mat for a nap and her mahout sat down with her, shared his human rice treats with her, and was very clear about his affection for her like a big puppy.
Other memorable moments from my day at FAE include:
-The people of FAE and the lovely lunch the staff prepared and invited me to join. I was honestly touched at how kind, inviting, and warm they were during my visit
-Watching Motala, another amputee, cruising around with her prosthetic on after watching the mahouts slide it on and fasten it
-Spending time with the many other patients at the elephant hospital, learning their stories, meeting their mahouts
To be honest, this was quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I would highly recommend visiting/supporting this organization to anyone in the future. I have seen first-hand how diligent and caring they are, and am truly inspired by their work. The part that really gets me is that the landmines and logging injuries (most common for elephants) are recurring, human-caused problems. Often, an elephant is admitted from an injury logging along the Burmese border, treated, released, and re-admitted again from the same mistreatment. The world needs more organizations like FAE to protect the vulnerable giants.
I obviously stayed too late, missed the last bus, spent an hour waving down Chiang Mai bound coaches on the highway until finally squeezing in the cab between the driver and ladyboy administrator… but it was SO worth it. Boy, I love the elephants!
YouTube Videos are posted here from FAE: