Monday, 17 March 2014

Journey to Freedom 5 – Going Bananas

The third day of our elephant adventure we harvested some banana trunks to feed to the elephants that had been released from trekking by the Journey to Freedom programme. We all travelled in the back of a pick up truck for about 40 minutes along bumpy and dusty tracks. Arriving at a small valley bottom filled with rice paddy fields we saw some banana trees growing in the boarders. We spilt our group into smaller teams. Some cut down the trees with machetes, clambering through the undergrowth battling with vines, spikey creepers and ants! Some retrieved the fallen plants, peeled away the thin outer layers of the trucks (like peeling leeks!) and the others transported the inner cores back to the pick up truck. Gary sank up to his knees in mud in part of the paddy field that had not yet dried out with a trunk on each shoulder!

In the afternoon we took some of the banana tree cores down into a neighbouring valley to feed a mother elephant called Mae Kham Moon. She had young twins! These were the first elephants we had seen during our volunteering. Later on we learnt that previously the mother elephant had been leased to a trekking company. She had given birth before but her baby had died. Following the death of her baby the owner decided to bring her to join the project. The young boys were full of playfulness! They all looked fat and healthy.

At first we were confused as to why the mother had a chain around her leg. It was explained that the mahout had been out to retrieve them from the forest and brought them into the open for our visit and to allow the project's vet to give them a check up He had chained her to keep her there or she would have wandered back to the forest. Sure enough, as soon as we'd fed them the family trundled back into the undergrowth.

We then visited a seven-year-old male elephant. He was rescued from a trekking camp and so had gone through the horrid 'Punjab' process, where a baby elephant's spirit is broken so it fears it's handler. He is still not full grown. In the same manner as the mother with twins, the mahout had brought him from the forest so that the vet and we could see him and feed him some of the banana trunks we'd collected.

A few months ago the mahout had noticed that the seven-year-old was having problems using his trunk. He could not bend it and so could not feed. This resulted in his sudden weight loss; elephants need to eat 10% of their body weight every day. They were not sure what had happened to the little chap so they took him to an elephant hospital for an X-ray. That evening the Elephant Nature Park vet showed us the X-ray pictures. You could clearly see a long rod-like stick which had entered at the base of the trunk and travelled all the way up towards the head. The vet had removed the stick from near the middle of his trunk. I assume they broke the stick and removed the top and bottom half. On the pictures below you can see he has a dent in the side of his trunk where the incision was made. He made a good recovery. His trunk now has full movement and the incision wound is being treated. Without the quick help of the Elephant Nature Park this elephant would have ultimately grown too weak and starved.

Our banana trunk feast all loaded up

On the hunt for an elephant to feed

Mae Kham Moon and her twins

Our happy 7 year old boy with his fixed trunk

He was very friendly and loved to be fed by hand

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