- The Wild Walk Team
After living and working in the West End of London for the best part of my late teens, I realised I did not like my life or who I was. I had everything a girl of my age could want. A successful career, generous salary, busy social life, great clothes, my own house, a loving fiancÚ but something just did not feel right. I knew there was more to life and more to me, than this. So, two weeks after my 21st birthday, I freed myself of all my commitments, quitting my job, selling my house, leaving my fiancÚ and embarked on a back packing adventure around the world.
Six weeks in to my trip, I found a baby elephant in Thailand. He was the first baby elephant I had ever seen and he captured my heart and soul completely. His name was Boon Lott, which is Thai for 'survivor' and he was a tiny two months old. I had no idea how this one little, hairy, being, would change my life forever.
At the age of eight months, Boon Lott took a bad fall, which left him paralyzed. I stayed with him, sleeping beside him, every single night, tending to his every need, reading to him, singing to him, feeding and cleaning him, playing with him, holding him - I became his surrogate mother and did not leave his side, until the tragic day of his death, 14 months later.
When Boon Lott's little heart stopped beating, he was lying in my lap. I had my arms wrapped around him and could do nothing but weep, as life left him. As I sat there, with tears rolling down my face, I made him a promise. I told him I would never let his special story be forgotten. I gave Boon Lott my word I would create a sanctuary, in his honour and spend the rest of my life fighting for the welfare of elephants.
BLES is a small, family run sanctuary, which prides itself on being able to allow our rescued elephants to graze and interact naturally, on over 500 acres of forested land. The needs of our elephants are our top priority. For example, elephants do not like to be surrounded by crowds of people. This is why, at BLES, we limit the number of guests to six at any one time. We do not allow day only visits, as this would be stressful for our elephants and we do not encourage our guests to approach our elephants. Every interaction people have with one of our elephants, is initiated by the elephant. This makes it so much more meaningful, intimate and unique and BLES is the only establishment in Thailand that offers this kind of experience.
There are currently 4050 domestic elephants and 500 wild elephants in Thailand. These figures are shocking and deeply upsetting. The reality is, the elephants are running out of 'wild'. They have nowhere to go, to be safe and this is exactly why one of my missions is to buy back the wild and release our rescued elephants. They will never be wild elephants, as they have been domesticated most of their lives. However, they will be the next best thing and most important of all, they will be protected.
Every day is an adventure here at BLES! I normally rise with the sunshine at around 5 AM and feed, wash and exercise our paralysed kitten - Pumpkin. Then, I feed all our other rescued cats and dogs - all 40 of them, before I wake up my three beautiful children and get them ready for school.
After the school run, I examine all of our rescued elephants. We currently care for eleven elephants and each one has special needs that need daily attention. For example, Wassana, who stepped on an active land mine while she was being forced to log, probably along the Burmese border, is missing most of her front left foot. Sometimes she steps on a sharp stone, which punctures her old wound and she needs daily foot baths to prevent infection taking hold.
At around 8 AM, I talk to our guests and educate them about all aspects of elephant welfare. I answer all their questions and then, once the elephants are ready, we walk with them, deep in to the forest, to various release areas. Each walk lasts around four hours. I sit with our guests, telling them each elephant's story and together, we enjoy watching the elephants, from a distance doing what they were born to do - just be.
I then have to bath our little paralysed pup - iMac and put him in his wheelchair. iMac was hit by a car and left to die. Despite this difficult start in life, he is one of the happiest little dogs I have ever known!
Once I have run around with iMac for an hour or two, it is normally time to pick up the children from school.
At dinner time, it is time for us (the children and I) to feed all the cats and dogs again and then, once everyone is fast asleep, I usually turn on my laptop and catch up with correspondence, update our fan pages, website and if our internet connection is strong enough, I Skype with my mum. Normally, I go to sleep around 3 AM and it all starts again at 5 AM!
As with most other non profit organisations, BLES struggles to find funding. We have such big plans for the future of our animals, but we simply can not achieve them, if we can not secure the funds. BLES relies on the kindness of others and so every single donation given, is deeply appreciated. I have been blessed with supportive and understanding parents who have always believed in me and my passions. They visit BLES a number of times a year and my mum now runs our UK charity, organising fundraisers and helping raise the awareness. National Geographic just voted me 'Traveler of the Year'. This is a very exciting opportunity to raise much needed awareness for the elephants and we are very grateful for the international exposure.
In September 2008, BLES celebrated the birth of its first calf. It was also the first calf born in the village.
BLES is serious in its intention to support local elephant owners. In Thailand, there are few medical facilities that specialize in elephant husbandry. Those that do exist are located in the northern and southern regions of the country, offering little help to the elephant population of central Thailand. BLES is ideally situated to establish an on-site clinic to remedy this crisis. We plan to host a rotation of trained professionals and veterinary students to support our full-time staff.
I have always believed that the future of our world, lies in the hands of our children. As adults, whether we have children or not, we have a responsibility to teach and lead by example. Children look up to their elders, so if we are acting in a compassionate way, every day, the children will see this and follow the example.
I would like to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this article. To everyone who has visited our website, made a donation, shared a link, helped us spread the word. It is only by working together, as an international community, that we will achieve a positive and significant change for the elephants and other animals in need of our help.