She stands quietly looking at the elephant in front of her, and that elephant stares back. She has just been rescued, and that elephant is her long-lost mother.
Baby Me-Bai the elephant was taken from her mother when she was only three years old and sold into Thailand‘s tourist industry.
It’s impossible to know what was running through their minds at that moment, but after four painful years, she’s been rescued and the pair are together again. This is their story, and the elephant angel that brought them together.
The first half-hour they were quiet, just holding each other close, caressing each other with their trunks, says Lek Chailert, the lady who saved them.
What did they do next? Talked. For hours. They had a lot to catch up on! Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could understand their language? Regardless, it’s obvious with Mae-Yui whispering in her daughter’s ear that they are sharing a moment of joy and healing.
This video is from those first day moments.
How did this happen?
Me-Bai is now seven. Far from being fully grown, she had started getting thin and sick. She was too young to be “broken” during training, and made to work giving neck rides. Consider that elephant calves nurse up to two years of age, just like human babies, so three years old is equivalent to a pre-schooler.
Lek was able to arrange for Me-Bai to come to her amazing Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand and recover in their Pamper a Pachyderm Program. This is a place where abused and rescued elephants are rehabilitated and left in peace to live at the sanctuary.
At first Me-Bai was wary of the new humans, but soon learned she could relax and wouldn’t have to carry them and work.
Finding her mother
Next Lek began mission two—finding Me-Bai’s mother. She discovered that Mae-Yui was working at a nearby tourist trekking camp. Lek invited the owner of the camp to visit ENP and meet their newest little orphan. In a turn of destiny, the owner decided to let Mae-Yui retire.
Mae-Yue was then sent to a new jungle sanctuary run by ENP at a different location and Me-Bai would join her. They’ll be reintroduced and released to live free in a protected jungle.
Last week, Lek and Me-Bai the little elephant started walking a four-day journey to be with her mother, along with a small entourage of supporters and Me-Bai’s old mahout.
The four-day hike was hard on the unhealthy little elephant, if only she knew she was going home to mama.
Lek posted updates to followers online, letting us know they were on their way, but would take a day longer because Me-Bai needed to spend more time foraging and bathing in mud pools.
During the walk, the mahout filled Lek in on what Me-Bai had been through, including working in a circus show painting and entertaining tourists, and then at a tourist mahout training camp, giving neck rides to mahouts in training. He noticed she wasn’t well, and couldn’t handle the weight of people anymore.
Her training would have involved a painful breaking in, which may have looked something like this photo from a series Lek posted in March during international elephant day to highlight elephant torture.
The final moment
The final moment, when mother and baby were reunited was a beautiful, soul-stirring moment for all involved. Their hard work paid off. On the second day, after they were set free together into the jungle, Lek observed the two still cuddling and inseparable. Lek said: “Even when the baby sleeps, the mother stands guard over her.”
You can visit the elephant park and get involved. Wouldn’t that be a more valuable experience than going for a ride on a working elephant?
It might be time to give back to the elephants.
I am naming Lek Chailert the Elephant Angel, a well-deserved title for the lady dedicated to saving them in Thailand. In March, Lek received the Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award 2015. She has lots of helpers, including her equally dedicated husband on the team, Darrick Thompson, a firefighter from Canada.
The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand rehabilitates working and abused elephants back into a natural way of life at the reserve. You can volunteer to help there, they have special programs for volunteers to visit from one day to one week working with the elephants and other rescue animals.
If you want to find out what happens to Me-Bai and Mae-Yui, follow the park on Facebook here, and follow Lek Chailert here. They need lots of support, both financial and moral. Well wishes, and sharing their work on social media all help.