As we stepped out of the tuk-tuk into the bright sunshine, I shielded my eyes to talk to our driver. “We’ll meet you here when we’re done,” I said with a hesitation in my voice. “Yes, yes, ok,” he replied as he jumped in the back of the tuk-tuk, ready to take a nap. Maria and I looked at each other with trepidation and slowly walked up to the ticket counter, uncertain of what we were about to experience.
“Two tickets, please,” I said as we looked at the map and peered down the bamboo-lined walkway. We exchanged our cash for tickets that would allow us to enter a place neither one of us had been. It was a place which we had heard a lot about, seen pictures and videos, but until now hadn’t seen for ourselves. I wasn’t sure how I felt about paying to go to this place, as this directly supported what we would like to prevent. But to bring things back to perspective, I remembered what our wise leader, Yo, always told us: “See for yourself and make your own judgments for yourself.” So that is what we were there to do.
Maria and I walked down the cement path and entered the elephant camp. There were tourists around who were clearly eager to see and interact with elephants through different activities of riding, bathing and seeing them perform in the circus show. As we walked through the grounds, it felt as if I was not fully present. Knowing what we know about elephants, and how social and complex these animals are, I couldn’t fully ‘go there’ with allowing my heart to see what my eyes saw. This was the first time in my life where I physically felt my heart shatter in a million pieces as I saw young elephants forced with bullhooks to kick soccer balls in the circus show. I watched otherwise well-meaning tourists have the time of their lives riding elephants draped in chains and my eyes welled with tears as I saw baby elephants separated from their mothers.
Elephants are noble, gorgeous animals. They have wisdom that is passed down through centuries. Who wouldn’t want to interact with them, after all? Being in the presence of elephants grounds us and they inspire us. Being so massive, you’d expect to be frightened to be around them, but usually it is quite the opposite: elephants draw you in and their gentle way, emotionally connecting with us in a way we haven’t experienced before. People have elephant rides or bathing with elephants high on their bucket lists and for good reason. Simply put, elephants are incredible creatures.
We spent the next 2 hours walking through the grounds and while it was so difficult, I felt motivated, more than I had ever before. “There has got to be a better way. We are better than this,” Maria and I discussed on the tuk-tuk ride back into the city. “Humans have such amazing potential, why are we subjecting ourselves and other beings to a life like this?” It very simply didn’t make sense. We are capable of such greatness, but somehow we are falling short.
That was the day our Foundation was born, right inside that camp outside of Chiang Mai. It’s interesting that from such a place of despair for many of those animals, a bright, optimistic future emerged. That was the day Maria and I hugged each other as we made a commitment to those animals at that camp, knowing that we had great potential in working with the captive elephant owners in providing a better solution, a more humane solution, and one that we could all be proud of as human beings as we share this planet. That was the day we opened our circle of compassion to elephant owners in being part of a new solution together.
We believe that by generously working together and not against one another, we can provide a model where owners and elephants can thrive in a setting where everyone benefits. Our commitment includes not purchasing elephants as we believe this funds the tourism industry. What issues do elephant owners face and how can we come up with creative ideas in helping them? What do elephant owners want for the future of their elephants? These were the questions we started to ask, and where complex answers will be understood over time. But we have to start somewhere. And we believe by laying the groundwork of compassion for elephants and each other, we have the greatest opportunity for success in the future.
The details of our Elephants Belong to Nature fundraising campaign are linked below. This particular campaign allows us to connect as a global community in being part of the solution in keeping elephants in their natural jungle environment. The generosity you show through this campaign directly impacts the lives of the seven elephants at our project. It improves their mental and physical health, and gives new opportunity for growth as human beings as we work together to solve a very complex issue of elephant captivity. Thank you to those who have thoughtfully donated and to those who are considering to extend a gift of support to our mission.
For the Elephants,