Thank you for watching the TV documentary that has been shown on CBBC as part of the “My Life” series.
We felt it was important to talk about chains and hooks as they are shown in the program and we are aware that people will understandably ask questions.
The elephants in the program are walking HOME back to live in the forest for the rest of their lives. We were joined by two elephants who helped to keep the youngest member of the group; Bai Fern calm and protected during the walk, this was the first time she had been out of the camp and no one knew how she would react. The two elephants came home for a “calling the soul” ceremony and have now returned back to work. Our elephants of course will remain in the forest for the rest of their lives.
We walked the elephants for 7 days through thick and unpredictable forest and also along busy roads. This is a well-trodden path for mahouts and elephants as they are forced to seek work in the city away from their beautiful hill tribe villages and forest. As we discovered it is no easy task walking elephants over these distances and this has to be planned carefully and done in the safest way possible. We chose to walk, as this is the traditional way to get the elephants HOME and also because they clearly enjoy walking over these large distances.
We were under the care of the owners and mahouts and followed their advice at all times. They care deeply for their elephants in this community and we completely trust their judgment.
Each elephant had one mahout and at night the mahout needs to rest and get some sleep, this of course this means the elephants have to be secured safely along the route. You will see the elephants have a VERY long length of chain on their necks whilst walking and this is used to secure them at night, it is impossible for the mahouts to carry this any other way and this really causes the elephant no harm at all. It is a good thing the chain is of long length meaning even at night they have plenty of room to walk around, forage and lie down if they wish. Every night great locations in the forest were carefully sought for the elephants to rest and prepare for the next day of walking.
We completely understand that people often have a negative reaction at the sight of any chain, as they are frequently so short and used to restrain elephants for many hours of the day and night. HOWEVER it is really important to look at each case individually and with the full understanding of what is happening and why something may be used intelligently for a specific reason.
The mahout’s rode on the necks at times and also walked next to the elephants, one mahout on the neck of the elephant causes the elephant no distress and calms them in times of stress. We had an incident, which is in the film where Bai Fern falls down the hill and it is a relief that her mahout was riding on her neck, between them they remained calm and figured out the best way to get down to help Bai Fern. In fact this turned out to be one of the most impressive moments of a mahout / elephant relationship we have ever seen.
We had to walk along a lot of busy roads and the mahouts riding on the neck was essential with large lorries and cars going past at great speed.
The mahouts also felt it was important for them to carry hooks for the walk HOME, they were used only as a guide for the elephants and in fact were barely used at all but the mahouts felt safety was their top priority and were clearly anxious on the busy roads. The hooks are not sharp and are NEVER used in an aggressive manner or as a weapon to cause harm or pain to the elephant. Regardless of any personal feelings it was important the mahouts walked their elephants home safely.
They do not use the hooks in the forest because they don’t need to: there are no demands now on the elephants; who can simply roam and forage at will.
The elephants have been living in the forest for 8 months now and I think we can all see the HUGE benefits and happy lives they now have.
We are an open and honest organization working to return elephants back to the forests where they belong, free from a life of work. We work WITH local communities to achieve the best possible welfare for the elephants that they own. We are not creating fairy tales but aiming to show the reality of the situation we are all faced with.
We hope you enjoy the documentary and a HUGE thanks to everyone who played a part in Walking Elephants HOME.