What an EPIC time we have had here recently!
By working in the animal welfare world, we have made the choice to be a part of the uplifting and highly enriching gains and the absolutely devastating losses. Each day, each week, each month is different and we never really know what is around the corner.
We heard about Fluffy earlier in the year and had been working to find a way to bring her to retirement. It has been a very challenging time for us these past few months with the loss of Mae Mor, but she was never far from our thoughts.
We launched the Elephant Rescue Appeal on Simply Giving to start raising funds to rescue & retire more elephants to BEES Sanctuary on the 27th September. At this time Fluffy was already on our minds. We had been to visit her in the south and dreamed of helping her. We had worried that we wouldn’t be able to raise enough funds to bring her to retirement. Fundraising is not an easy task. Although, we have so many amazing supporters, sometimes we don’t reach our goal when we fundraise through the BEES Elephant Foundation – BEF, meaning we have to pull together funds of our own, creating great strain on our sanctuary finances.
Something AMAZING happened just 48 hours after launching the Simply Giving – Elephant Rescue Appeal! We were approached by Canadian NGO International Wildlife Protection – IWP with a sponsorship proposal to rescue and retire an elephant. We shared Fluffy’s story with IWP and they agreed that Fluffy needed retirement so that she would never have to work again.
Fluffy aged at approximately 60 years of age was bought by her owners in the late 1980’s when logging was first banned in Thailand. It was a time when elephant trekking was the only other option for domesticated elephants and having an elephant was seen as a good investment which would bring much needed income to families for their survival.
Khun Ed, Fluffy’s owner has been working with her since he was 12 years old. His father had brought her to the village to work with their family and bring them an income. Recently, they had noticed Fluffy was aging and she had slowed down. She was stiff and had very poor digestion. The family expressed the need to sell her so that it would enable them to resolve their financial debt and set up for the future of their young children, but also, they knew in their hearts that it was time for Fluffy to stop working. They were so happy to know that she would be going to a place of true retirement. Being an elephant owner isn’t always easy, they are only human and for this family they have struggled alongside Fluffy for the last 30 years. Day in and day out they have worked with Fluffy, going from camp to camp and been in high demand to use her as a photo prop for weddings and big ceremonies.
She was given the nickname Fluffy by our Team while we were securing her retirement. From the moment we saw her, we felt she looked like a wooly mammoth and the name Fluffy sort of just stuck due to her unique ‘fluffy like’ features! Her real name is Boon Ruern -which means safe shelter, but for quite some time her owners have been calling her Paa Oowan which is an endearing term meaning – Our dear Aunty who is big/chubby.
The BEES Team swung into action, on the 1st October when we announced publicly Fluffy’s need to retire and the incredible sponsorship from IWP to make it all happen. We launched a campaign on Facebook to raise the extra funds needed for Fluffy’s transport expenses to BEES and began the process of getting through all the hoops to get Fluffy to retirement.
On the 2nd of October a small team from BEES went to see Fluffy to take blood and do a health check to make sure she was well enough to travel the long journey. Although Fluffy has a visibly stiff gait that indicates arthritis and she has been suffering terrible digestion, her blood work came back looking good and she was declared in good health to travel the long journey to retirement.
On the 11th October we were like anxious children on Christmas Eve and just after 3pm we received the call we had been waiting for from the bank…… the sponsorship funds from IWP had been cleared!!!!!
It was time for the adventure to begin! IT WAS TIME TO BRING FLUFFY TO RETIREMENT!!!!!
We rounded up our support team and set off just after 6pm on the big overnight journey south. On Thursday the 12th October at about 10am we finally arrived at the Livestock department near Fluffy’s camp. Feeling absolutely exhausted we did not let that deter us. We had to finalize paperwork for her ownership to be transferred over to BEES Elephant Foundation and get her transport clearances as Friday 13th was a public holiday. We could not waste any time. During the transfer of ownership both Khun Ed and his wife got very emotional and we could see them getting teary. It was a very sad thing for them to have to say goodbye to their ‘Aunty’ but a very happy ending after 3 decades of life they have shared with this magnificent animal. After a very long 5 hours and a mere 30 minutes before close of business on the eve of a public holiday, all paperwork was finalized. We left the livestock department and headed straight to see Fluffy.
At 4pm, we witnessed Fluffy give her last ride. She walked past us, harnessed with the basket and two tourists on her back, visibly struggling. We watched as the trekking basket came off for the last time and overwhelming emotions took over the team. Her new mahout Aum stood staring at her in amazement at her beauty with a tear in his eye. He too has never seen such a ‘fluffy’ elephant.
Fluffy was now a retired elephant and would never work again!
On the way to see Fluffy we received a call from Wimon, the elephant transport truck driver and he advised that he was a bit delayed. He was making a very big journey to transport Fluffy also. It was decided that as we were all exhausted it would be best to get a good night’s rest and start the journey in the morning. We said goodnight to Fluffy for the evening and told her we would be back in the morning to take her to her retirement home. We stayed in a guesthouse nearby, we were all very weary and the sleep was very welcomed. We woke for an early start and headed off to see Fluffy. We received word that big storms where coming, that also came with a flood warning and we could see dark clouds rolling in. We wanted to get out of the camp as fast as possible because the dirt roads may have become difficult to move through. When we arrived at the camp we found Fluffy’s owners preparing her for the big journey. They were speaking to her gently and had set up a small blessing ceremony at the tree by her shelter to keep her safe on her new adventure. Shortly after the transport truck arrived and we begin setting up at the loading station, putting up the signage and attaching protective padding onto the support beams to limit rubbing on Fluffy’s delicate old skin.
Fluffy’s owners gave her one last bath and then it was time to move her on to the truck. The owners began gently coaxing Fluffy towards the truck with bananas, speaking to her gently and patting her. The day before the family had asked if the father, an elderly man, nearly 70 called Daa Nook, could travel with us on the long journey to make sure she reached her new home safely. Of course we agreed as we felt a familiar face would be much better for Fluffy during this very stressful and confusing time for her. He was also helping call her on to the truck and we believe she found great comfort in this as Fluffy walked onto the truck with great ease. We were very impressed by the gentle coaxing of the family and although Fluffy was very nervous she did not try to run away. She was a very brave girl, maybe she knew what was to come?!
Khun Ed patted Fluffy’s rump, stepped out and kneeled behind the truck with his arm resting on the gate that was being locked to secure Fluffy in. His wife stood just behind him watching on. We could feel the emotions radiating from them. Wimon, the truck driver called out that he was ready to go and Khun Ed and his wife stepped back as the father climbed in the truck to go with Fluffy. We told them that we would take care of her and that we would make sure she was safe. We said to them that if they ever have some time that they are most welcome to come to visit Fluffy in her new home. We had quite a beautiful moment sharing a group hug and we all shed some tears. We said our good byes and they watched as Fluffy was driven away and we could see more tears in their eyes.
The support team went to follow Fluffy closely behind and the long journey had begun. We left the camp grounds at 10 a.m on Friday the 13th October, just in time too. Only half an hour after we left it started to rain on and off for the rest of the journey but we were always ahead of the predicted heavy storms and floods.
The journey was long but Fluffy did so well despite being very aware of her surroundings, with her eyes wide and ears forward listening to all the noises and taking it all in. There were many stops along the way at veterinary inspection offices as we went through each province. We also stopped to give Fluffy water and treats. At one stage we had to stop to refuel late in the night. The look on people’s faces when they saw an elephant in a petrol station was quite a sight to see! The staff were all taking photos like she was a celebrity!
We arrived in our village just after 5 a.m. Due to heavy rains having muddied up the grounds, we were not able to get the transport truck down to the sanctuary. So, we found a good safe place about 200 meters down the road at the local temple. It was quite incredible watching Fluffy cautiously walking off the truck and so delicately watching where she placed her feet. In the dark fluffy slowly made her way down the path towards her night shelter with her new mahout Aum’s gentle voice guiding her. Visibly exhausted, she had a drink of water straight from the hose and some watermelons that we had chopped the skin off. We sat back and we watched her exploring the night enclosure. Every few moments she would stand motionless resting her tired body but as the sun began to rise she started to give herself a dust bath. Daa Nook, the elderly father, expressed that he was very happy to see Fluffy’s new home.
We left Fluffy to settle in under the watchful eye of her new mahout Aum, while the rest of us went to freshen up after the 18 hour journey. Later we returned with Daa Nook and some offerings for the spirits at her night shelter, so he could bless Fluffy’s new space. He said a chant and made offerings to the spirits to introduce them to Fluffy and ask them to accept her. When he finished he said he had a very good feeling about this place and that he felt she will be very happy with us. Daa Nook returned home the following day.
We have been watching Fluffy closely and helping her ease into her new home. Fluffy suffers from terrible digestion and her dung quality is poor. Already we are making changes to her diet to help increase absorption and help her digest easier. It appears Fluffy may never have been allowed to roam freely and forage on her own. In the camps Fluffy’s owners were only able to feed her grass and bananas. When she stepped out of her enclosure to explore for the first time she seemed confused. She could smell the grass but hesitated to grab it and break it off to eat. It appeared as though she was expecting to get in trouble for trying it. After sniffing about for a good twenty minutes Fluffy took her first bunch of grass in her trunk and began eating it. She is still very unsure and seems confused when left to forage. On day 2 she took a stroll out in the forest and as she reached a noisy part of the stream she flared her ears and opened her eyes wide. She began to step backwards as it seemed she was afraid. Shortly after this the wind picked up and caused the tree’s to rustle loudly and she had the same response. We speak to Fluffy softly when she appears to be afraid of a noise and she responds very well, immediately calming down and refocusing on what she was doing. Slowly she is learning that it’s okay to forage, dust & mud bath and just be an elephant. When we first met her she would only drink water from a hose but over the last week she has slowly been stepping out of her comfort zone and has been drinking small amounts of stream water.
It also seems that by working in the camps Fluffy has been deprived of the opportunity to exfoliate, dust & mud bath and scratch against trees endlessly to satisfy her skins needs. It’s now one of her favorite things to do most of the day! It will be interesting to see if her ‘fluff’ stays as ‘fluffy’ now she has the ability to do all these things.
Over the last week we have been getting to know the real Fluffy! She still doesn’t know who she is herself, yet!
We are excited to watch how Fluffy progresses and see if she become friends with Mae Kam or Thong Dee. She is very shy at the moment and turns away from both the girls when they approach.
Slow and steady Fluffy! You have all the time you need to find yourself sweet girl!
The ability to bring Fluffy home has given us the strength to keep striving forward, working to make a positive difference and most importantly to give Fluffy a new beginning.
A HUGE THANK YOU to International Wildlife Protection and their supporters for sponsoring Fluffy’s Retirement.
Also a special Thank You to all those who donated towards our fundraising campaign for the transport expenses for Fluffy’s big move.
Together we have changed Fluffy’s Life! Thank You!
The BEES Team xx