‘Ah, Timothy, it’s a bit awkward to talk at the moment. You see, I’m in Thailand and I’m perched on the neck of a very large elephant. There is no seat and I’m holding on for dear life – and with only one hand now that you have called’.
‘Ah’, said Timothy, who is almost as old as me, but much more of a gentleman, ‘I see I’ve called at an awkward time. I’ll ring you again in a few days’.
The elephant’s shoulders were, naturally, alternately moving up and down, so I was swaying as if on rough waves and virtually feeling seasick. I had thought I’d hold on to its ears, but as the animal flapped them without warning, I thought better of it, in case I was flung into the tops of the coconut palms.
I was in the Elephant Village near Pattaya and the entry fee paid by me and my wife, Sharon, was a contribution to the upkeep of the elephants. We learned that as tree felling had been banned in the north of the country, the elephants had become redundant. There are 26 elephants in the village and each is owned by one man. The animal’s earnings as a tree trunk mover had been the mainstay for him and his wife and children, but now they relied heavily on the sanctuary provided by the village.
It is occupied by 26 families and although subsidised by a Government grant, it is very dependent on any revenue it can earn from tourists.
‘Otherwise’, we were told, ‘the animals would be reduced to the ignominy of doing tricks in market places in order to supplement their income’. Walking on roads, we also learned, was very bad for the elephants’ feet.
Each elephant eats 250kg of food a day. To achieve this, they spend 16 hours a day feeding on leaves, branches, bananas and other fruit. We were able to hand-feed a one-year old elephant with bananas. This wonderful little creature took a banana in its trunk, somehow managed to remove the peel, which it discarded, and then ate the fruit. It demonstrated the remarkable agility of the very tip of its trunk, where different muscles act like fingers.
The adult creatures, however, almost scorned individual bananas and simply took a whole hand of them and swallowed fruit, skins, stalk and all. Their teeth are so strong that we were able to feed one bull elephant with a whole coconut. We watched how it crunched it and then swallowed the lot.
The village has a nice arrangement with local farmers. The animals are able to dispose very rapidly of the masses of waste foliage from sugar cane and American corn. It is a perfect example of recycling, as the dung is then valuable as a fertiliser for the farmer’s fields - and there was evidence that the village has a plentiful supply of that.
Sharon and I were there on a Wednesday and were the first visitors that week. Pattaya is a popular destination for corporate events and I would suggest that the Elephant Village should be part of a group’s programme. It is fun and educational and it would certainly be welcomed by the animals, their keepers and the families. Visit: http://www.elephant-village-pattaya.com/