by Kanyon McLean - The Ohio State University
This past summer I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand to practice veterinary medicine with elephants and native wildlife. I was very impressed by the standard of care the animals received despite obvious discrepancies in resources compared to The United States. It IS possible to provide quality care despite not having the most up-to-date machinery! The veterinarians I worked with embodied the idea that sincere love and passion for our fauna can overcome any lack of tangible resource.
The Asian culture is very in tune with the earth. Medicinal herbs are frequently fed to the elephants. Looking at the variety of flora on the table, I wouldn’t even know where to begin- which plants do what? But the Thai vets, mahouts, and technicians- they all knew: “Eat this for upset stomach. Eat this for dry skin. Eat this for bone strength.”
Mahouts are my heroes. Men dedicated to the constant care and well being of the elephants. One of the most touching unions I experienced was between the two mahouts caring for "Bing Mi" and "Sing Com", a mother and baby elephant, respectively, living at the Thailand Elephant Conservation Center. Mother and baby each have one mahout, as is customary, but I was in awe to discover that ever since Sing Com was born, both mahouts have been living in the little shack right next to the elephant enclosure so as to care for the elephants at all hours of the day and night. Sing Com’s mahout showed me his feeding log, documenting every time Sing Com has been given a bottle since birth. The daily dedication the mahouts bestow upon the elephants is heartwarming, and the connection between mahout and elephant is palpable.
I was incredibly blessed to be in Thailand for Visakha Puja, the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of the Lord Buddha. I walked with the Thai people around the temple, candle in hand, silently witnessing the tangible love the people felt towards their Lord Buddha. From this experience, I took away how closely tied the Thai people are to harmony and peace. I felt a part of something bigger than myself, and looking back, standing in front of the temple, I realize that moment was preemptive of feelings I'd experience in the weeks ahead, working with the mahouts and elephants. It isn't about personal gain when working with these animals. It's about what these magnificent creatures represent for the entire community, and as a community we must protect them.