Well, What can we say, it’s hard for us to put it into words!
June 1st 2018 marks BEES 6 year Anniversary of having elephants at BEES and Mae Kam’s 6 Years of retirement at BEES!
The past 6 years have been filled with tears of happiness, sadness, fear, pain, anger, exhaustion, frustration and hope. It seems to be an endless cycle of emotions, an uphill battle, windy roads and many obstacles that always come onto the path.
We had no idea where BEES would lead us but what we did know was that we wanted to work towards an end to the exploitation and abuse of elephants and animals in Thailand. The captive elephant situation is extremely complex and cannot be fixed overnight, step by step we work to improve welfare and work towards positive change.
When we started we had very little support, we were working with our own personal savings and we feared that we may not succeed. We started off by visiting camps and villages where there were elephants, talking to elephant owners and trying to convince them to stop using their elephants for work and we would provide them an alternative income in line with what the camps were offering them. Many laughed in our faces at the idea of having their elephants comes to BEES were tourists would not ride them. Some of the owners said that if they didn’t ride and use the elephants every day they would become wild and would no longer be useful, other owners said we were crazy and tourists would never come.
In May 2012 we met Mae Kam and her owner and his family and everything changed. The family had been struggling and was planning to send Mae Kam back to work because they needed the income. They had brought Mae Kam home nearly 2 years prior and she had been chained in a small patch of forest above their farm. They had brought her home as she had become aggressive in the camp and started shaking tourists from her back. The reason why is truly heartbreaking. The owner told us the reason Mae Kam had become so aggressive in the camp was because her calf had died from a cobra bite. To separate her from the deceased calf she was badly beaten by camp staff. This took it’s toll on Mae Kam’s physical and psychological health.
After 2 years in the forest the owner thought he and his family had no other option but to send her back to work, they desperately needed the income. Then we came along and offered them an alternative. The alternative – We pay them monthly rent, in line with what the camps had to offer and Mae Kam would come to BEES to live in a more natural environment, no riding, no tricks and they would have the monthly ‘rent’ income to provide for their family. They were very happy with our offer and on the 29th May 2012, Mae Kam began her journey to BEES. It was a 2.5 day walk from Khun Yuam, Mae Hong Son.
In 2015 Mae Kam became a permanent member of BEES you can read about it here -
Mae Kam opened a new door and ever since we have had elephants join us for rest and care under rental contracts as well as elephants we have permanently rescued.
Thailand has around 4,000 Captive Elephants, many of them are used for work in tourist camps, as entertainers and giving rides, some are still used today for logging and farming. Luckily there are more and more elephants going to projects across the country, working to give them better lives and move away from cruel unnatural practices.
When we first started researching and visiting elephant projects, most places if not all, including sanctuaries/ rescue centers that we visited, chained the elephants at night. Since we began BEES, we too have had no choice but to use a long single length chain to secure the elephants at night only. The main reason we had to secure the elephants at night with chains had been due lack of funding to build enclosures and no other options. You simply cannot allow elephants to just free roam at night, it’s not safe.
Right from the beginning ALL elephants that have come to BEES have been free from work, receive good quality care, have the ability to spend each day enjoying a natural environment, foraging, dust and mud bathing, splashing in the water, socialise with others on their terms and have had the ability to just be elephants. No riding, no tricks, just elephants being elephants. Each elephant has had their own carer – the mahout, hired by BEES who walks with them every day and keeps them safe and out of harm’s way. They have needed to spend nights ‘secured’ by a long, single length chain to a sturdy tree, to give their carer a good rest and keep them safe, stop them from wandering onto nearby farmlands and risk being injured or worse. Local farmers won’t hesitate to protect their crops, it’s their livelihood and for example could poison, stab or shoot an elephant to stop them from destroying their farm. The night chains have always been long to allow them good movement, to lay down, move away from their feces etc. It’s not ideal, but we have been trying our best to move away from night chains. Read on to see what we have been up to…. ….
Many of our long term supporters will know that in November 2015 we held a fundraising event in Brisbane, Australia and began a campaign online to raise funds to build night enclosures here at BEES. For a long time we have wanted to phase out the use of night chains at BEES. Many other organizations with big supporters and that have been running far longer than BEES, had already begun to take the chain-free approach. Although we are only small, we wanted to join them and show that we are 100% committed to the welfare of the elephants. We had many wonderful donors on the fundraising evening and online to the campaign; but unfortunately we didn’t raise the amount needed within the time frame we had hoped for. It took until late 2016 to raise enough funds to be able to start planning cheaper smaller designs and slowly but surely we raised the funds to start building.
Thong Dee now spends her time chain free, roaming the grass field, the stream and the flatter forest terrain by day and resting in the night enclosure by night. Mae Mor who was rescued in March 2017 was able to spend the final months of her life, free roaming during the day and in a chain-free night enclosure by night, before passing on 30th August 2017. Fluffy was rescued in October 2017 and she too was able to spend her final days free roaming and her nights chain-free, before passing on 15th January 2018.
Up until recently we only had the funding to complete the two night enclosures which have been used by Thong Dee, Mae Mor and Fluffy. After Fluffy passed there was an enclosure available, so it was time to introduce Mae Kam to the area and see how she liked it, the other elephants had all been very interested in the enclosure at first and did try to find ways out, but soon they got used to the areas and stopped trying.
Mae Kam on the other hand is young and boisterous at heart and for an elephant of 60 years old, she still has a surprising amount of strength. Mae Kam figured out exactly where to ram the gate and got out within the first few nights, we would fix it and she would find a way to break through again. Most recently she damaged a large part of that same enclosure, taking out two poles and escaping.
Each time she had damaged the enclosure and got out, we have had no choice but secure her on the night chain, until we could have the damaged fence repaired. It’s really important to remember that each individual elephant has a unique personality and has had different traumatic experiences in their past. For some elephants new surroundings can take some time to get used too. Mae Kam has been conditioned to be secured on the chain every evening of her life for the past 60 years, she has known no different. Placing her in a weird man made structure has been challenging for her to accept and when she is on the chain she is calm and content in her surroundings.
In April the workers were available and we had enough funding available. So, we started building a specially designed enclosure for Mae Kam. It’s built with the poles closer together, hopefully making it more sturdier (Mae Kam-proof) and it has a dirt/rock wall on one of the sides so she feels like she is in a more natural place. For many evenings since Mae Kam has been here she was secured in the area that we have now built her new enclosure. She seems very relaxed and comfortable there. She enjoys rubbing her body against the dirt/rock wall and digging at it with her trunk to have a dust bath. We have just started to introduce her to this new area now that it has the fence. We hope that she will soon learn that it is a safe place for her and we can move away from the chain completely.
So we now have 3 chain-free night enclosures, two elephants permanently retired at BEES and are fundraising to bring more elephants home.
Our job is not easy, running a sanctuary is a challenge, but its also highly rewarding when you see an animal learn to trust and flourish in a loving more natural environment. At BEES we rescue and provide a place of rest and care for not just elephants, but we are also provide a home to all animals in need. We believe that in order to teach love and respect for elephants, you must also love and respect all life. We currently have 19 rescued dogs, 14 rescued cats and a juvenile Dollarbird in care that will be released as soon as he can fly. We also provide outreach care to domestic animals in the local community, by running spay/neuter clinics, providing preventative vaccines, in the village treatment, we also bring animals into temporary care and take them to Chiang Mai for diagnostics and emergency surgeries when needed and return them to their owners once they are better and can continue treatment at home.
We will always strive to do the best we can for the elephants and animals in need. In the future with a lot of support from the global community we hope to build an animal hospital here in Maechaem, buy a large area of land for an animal shelter for stray animals. Our main goals with the help of BEES Elephant Foundation – BEF we are hoping to continue to establish safe havens for elephants by buying more land, building more chain-free enclosures and working towards a future of no more suffering and exploitation.
Thank you to each and every person that has joined us on this journey by supporting us, through every like, share, donation, visit to BEES and doing what you can to spread the word.
We can’t do what we do without you. Please continue to spread the word and donate to help us continue on our mission:
Trumpets, Rumbles, Grumbles of Thanks,
Burm, Emily and All of us here at BEES