Yoga teacher sup­port­ing ele­phants

Taupo & Turangi Weekender - - Letters To The Editor -

A Taupo¯ woman has re­turned from her sec­ond visit to an award­win­ning ele­phant res­cue park in Thai­land more com­mit­ted to rais­ing aware­ness of the plight of highly en­dan­gered Asian ele­phants at tourist at­trac­tions.

Yin yoga teacher Emma Scott spent a week vol­un­teer­ing at the Ele­phant Na­ture Park in Chi­ang Mai, pre­sent­ing the park own­ers with just over NZ $4000 raised from weekly yin yoga classes in Taupo¯. The early morn­ing hour­long Fri­day classes started on the lake­front in Jan­uary with all koha/ do­na­tions from par­tic­i­pants go­ing to the fundrais­ing ef­fort. Rhythm of Com­bat boxing gym in Nukuhau St also do­nated the use of its gym for classes in win­ter.

Emma says the park is funded through do­na­tions and vol­un­teer vis­its and the Taupo¯ funds were grate­fully re­ceived and will go where they are most needed. She says in the year since her first visit the park has gone from strength to strength with new out­door ope­nair con­crete ther­apy pools for the ele­phants, more med­i­cal equip­ment and ex­panded fa­cil­i­ties.

Emma says close to 100 rescued ele­phants of all ages are now liv­ing in the con­fines of the 280ha park. The shel­ter also houses rescued dogs and cats.

Emma says the pop­u­lar­ity of ele­phants at Thai tourist at­trac­tions has soared since 1989 when it be­came illegal to use them for log­ging op­er­a­tions.

“Un­for­tu­nately, many tourists just want to ride an ele­phant or see them do tricks and operators are now cap­tur­ing ele­phants from the wild.” She says ele­phants that are rid­den or trained to do tricks and dance to mu­sic have un­der­gone bru­tal break­ing-in meth­ods.

“They break their spirit by tak­ing them from their moth­ers at a young age, beat­ing them close to death and then feed­ing them up and look­ing af­ter them so they are afraid and will co-op­er­ate.”

She says res­cue cen­tres like the Ele­phant Res­cue Park of­fer tourists the option of get­ting close to ele­phants in a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment where their health and wellbeing aren’t com­pro­mised.

One of the new­est res­i­dents, a 72-year-old ele­phant was be­ing rid­den by tourists just days be­fore her pur­chase and re­lo­ca­tion to the park, de­spite be­ing mal­nour­ished and un­der­weight.

“She needed as­sis­tance just to stand up but af­ter five days on IV fluid she started to get up and about again,” says Emma.

The park is funded through a mix of do­na­tions and paid vis­its which range from day trips to overnight stays and seven-day vis­its for volunteers like Emma who want to work with the an­i­mals.

She says the chance to get close to the ele­phants with­out caus­ing them any harm is in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing.

“They are such an in­tel­li­gent species with strong fam­ily con­nec­tions.

“Some of the ele­phants can’t be ap­proached be­cause they are so dam­aged that they can’t be around other ele­phants or peo­ple. Oth­ers can be fed and it just feels amaz­ing to be around them. A lot of them have seen many peo­ple and are very cu­ri­ous.”

Emma says her seven-day visit was a “to­tal ex­pe­ri­ence” that in­cluded ev­ery­thing from sort­ing food sup­plies for the an­i­mals to pick­ing up ele­phant poo and do­ing gen­eral work. Volunteers can also at­tend a range of ed­u­ca­tional talks and sem­i­nars.

The park is run by Thai na­tional Lek Chail­ert, re­cip­i­ent of sev­eral in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion awards, and her Cana­dian hus­band Dar­rick Thomp­son. The cou­ple are now fo­cus­ing on buy­ing ad­di­tional land for more rescued ele­phants. In 2010 Lek was named as one of six Women He­roes of Global Con­ser­va­tion by the then Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, along with a Time Mag­a­zine Hero of Asia award and a Ford Foun­da­tion Hero of the planet award. This year the park won a Re­spon­si­ble Thai­land Award for an­i­mal wel­fare at World Travel Mart 2018. The cou­ple’s ele­phant res­cue ef­forts have also at­tracted Hol­ly­wood at­ten­tion. A film/ doc­u­men­tary Love and Ba­nanas pre­sented by Hol­ly­wood ac­tress Ash­ley Bell cen­tres around the background and even­tual res­cue of one of the ele­phants, Noi-Nah, who still lives at the park. The doc­u­men­tary, which fea­tures Lek Chail­ert has re­cently been nom­i­nated for an Os­car.

Emma says ev­ery lit­tle bit of fi­nan­cial help counts. The fundrais­ing Fri­day morn­ing yin yoga classes in Taupo¯ are un­der­way again and Emma is con­tin­u­ing her own ef­forts to ed­u­cate peo­ple on be­half of the en­dan­gered Asian ele­phants.

Emma is­mak­ing a re­turn visit to the park in Oc­to­ber next year. She says a few peo­ple have ex­pressed in­ter­est in ac­com­pa­ny­ing her.

Taupo¯ yin yoga teacher Emma Scott (right) pic­tured with Ele­phant Na­ture Park founder Lek Chail­ert dur­ing a re­cent vol­un­teer­ing mis­sion to the park in Chi­ang Mai, Thai­land.

Emma Scott with some of the rescued ele­phants at the Ele­phant Na­ture Park in Chi­ang Mai.

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