2015, Southeast Asia

CKC grand finale: week #2 at Elephant Nature Park.

… And we’re back!  Our final project continues as we spend our second week at Elephant Nature Park,  working with the Elephants. This placement is one that our group has looked forward to since first planning our Global Vets trip last year. Elephant Nature Park is founded by an incredibly sweet and courageous Thai lady named Lek. Lek created ENP with the vision of rescuing elephants from abusive situations so that they can live out a peaceful life.  Elephants have traditionally been widely used in Southeast Asia for many purposes such as logging, circus entertainment,  street begging,  trekking,  and for religious ceremonies. However, in order for elephants to be used for such purposes they are first subjected to immeasurable cruelty and torture. Juvenile elephants are taken from their mothers in the wild, which often results in the killing of adult herd members as they try to protect the young . The young elephant is then forced into a restrictive enclosure and chained to undergo a process called “pajaaan”  or  “breaking of the spirit”,  whereby it is continuously beaten and starved for 7 days,  until it becomes submissive  to humans. This ritual is extremely cruel and often elephants suffer permanent vision loss or other disabilities . Elephants are then sold for use to industries such as logging where they are worked,  without rest or proper nutrition, until their eventual death. Elephant Nature Park aims to educate visitors of Thailand about the cruelty behind elephant usage and to encourage avoiding activities such as riding or circus entertainment. Instead, please consider visiting or volunteering at rescue facilities such as ENP where elephants are able to live free from abuse. Many programs are now available whereby visitors  can interact with and pamper rescued elephants. If you would like to learn more, please visit http://www.saveelephant.org.
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During our week at ENP Elephants,  we were very thankful to be able to work with the veterinary team. Each day,  we would begin by doing our morning round of treatments. Many of the elephants with injuries here are due to abscesses and land mine accidents. Land mine injuries are quite common in Thailand Elephants –  whether due to remnants from war or from intentional placement by humans.  Other common illnesses are eye and ear infections. Since elephant skin is about 4cm thick, treating these injuries often becomes a long process, sometimes requiring years to fully heal,  even with twice daily cleaning. In order to clean the wound,  the affected area is scrubbed with Clorhexidine (an antiseptic solution) and then rinsed with water and iodine. To protect the wound from debris, the area is then sealed with an aerosol antiseptic spray. As these elephants are free to roam the park throughout the day, it’s vital to try and keep the affected area as clean as possible.

Claire and Big completing a daily foot cleaning on a young elephant
Claire and Big completing a daily foot cleaning on a young elephant
Dr. Jib expressing an abscess
Dr. Jib expressing an abscess

Along with daily treatments,  we also assisted with other interesting tasks that we had not anticipated.

1. One elephant presented with signs of “bloat”. These signs include constipation, lack of appetite, painful abdomen and restless behaviour. In order to relieve the animal and encourage intestinal movement the veterinary team administered pain medication and an enema with warm water. As one can imagine,  giving an elephant an enema is not an easy feat! To our relief, the following day the elephant was back to its normal self eating and drinking again!

2. Another interesting thing we got to witness was a male elephant named Hope undergoing musth. Musth is a periodic condition characterized by an increase in both testosterone and pressure in the temporal gland,  thereby resulting in intense pain within the elephants head, something similar to a bad headache. Both the pressure within the skull and increased testosterone levels can lead to aggressive behaviour. Each time a male elephant goes through this period in its life it can be equated to a human going through  puberty. Musth is a time in which elephants are likely to breed and fight with other males. Therefore,  an elephant in this state is dangerous to both humans and other elephants. At this time it is important for Hope to be isolated to a separate area in order to keep himself, his handler, and other elephants safe.

Crystal injecting iodine solution into an abscess to clean the wound
Crystal injecting iodine solution into an abscess to clean the wound

3. During our week with the elephants we also had the opportunity  to meet and observe the Positive Reinforcement Trainers,  Chrissy and Jodi. They work daily with the elephants to teach them how to present themselves for medical care and cooperate during these treatments. This initial training is important for elephant handling and for routine check up and treaments. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding a desired behaviour with a tasty treat to encourage future performance. Traditionally,  elephant training has revolved around using force and deprivation in a process known as “crush” to control their behaviour. ENP is breaking new ground by using positive reinforcement instead of the traditional methods to ensure the animals are treated in a humane and ethical manner.

Katelyn scrubbing a landmine injury with chlorhexidine solution to clean the wound
Katelyn scrubbing a landmine injury with chlorhexidine solution to clean the wound

4. We spent one afternoon measuring the circumference of several elephants.  This measurement is taken just behind their front legs,  around the trunk of their body in order to estimate body weight. This enables the vets to calculate proper medication dosages and also helps to monitor weight fluctuations.

Dr. Tom scanning an elephant for its microchip
Dr. Tom scanning an elephant for its microchip

5. Recently ENP rescued approximately 20 new elephants. These elephants arrived with records of their microchip numbers. One of our tasks was to scan each elephant to ensure the number the scanner was reading matched our records. Surprisingly,  an elephant microchip is approximately the same size as microchips found in dogs and cats!

We had an amazing week working with this incredible species and learning from their medical team! We would like to thank Dr. Jib, Dr. Tom, Big, Chrissy, and Jodi for teaching us not only about elephant medicine,  but also how to speak Thai!

Our incredible mentors  Dr. Tom, Big,  and Dr. Jib. Team elephants!
Our incredible mentors Dr. Tom, Big, and Dr. Jib. Team elephants!

We cannot believe that this week concludes our time as Global Vet’ers. We have learnt so much and will carry  these memories and experiences with us forever. We have met so many incredible people and have been shown such generous hospitality during our time in Thailand. Thank you everyone, from the bottom of our hearts!

Bittersweet goodbyes. We had an incredible two weeks at Elephant Nature Park!
Bittersweet goodbyes. We had an incredible two weeks at Elephant Nature Park!

Cheers  &  as our Thai friends would say,  set lao! 😉

– Crystal , Katelyn &  Claire

#CKC

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