November 2011, my partner and I arrived in Thailand as eager, culture thirsty tourists. I'd saturated myself in all apps Thai prior to my arrival and was hungry for the experience. That year Bangkok had flooded badly leaving our city stop scuppered but allowing extra days in laid back Ko Lanta. Bliss.
Endless spas, markets, temples, the obligatory trip to the overcrowded paradise that is Phi Phi Island and of course the ultimate hard core travellers holy grail, non English speaking locals. My £0.69 Learn Thai app was about to come into it's own.
A few days in and it was time for the much awaited 'Eco' tour with Elephants. Having only a faint memory of a lonesome circus Ele in the distant 1970's, I was as excited as that kid at Xmas. The drive there was pure adventure, being thrown around in the back of an open back pick up, as we sped over the dirt tracks, deeper and deeper into the Jungle.
And then it came into view, that majestic, beautiful, almost prehistoric looking, proud emblem of Thailand, chained to a tree. The mixture of emotions was akin to the email from Camelot that on opening announces you're £10 better off. I'm not sure what I expected but it just wasn't that.
I never did get to find out her name, age, where she came from or what her story was, but she spoke volumes to me. Riding on her back trekking through the Thai jungle, I'd never felt so sad and shameful to be taking part in something that was meant to be a bucket list experience.
My doubts were confirmed at the end of the trek when invited to take pictures, for a fee, of a baby Elephant doing handstands. It looked barely weaned, how could this be?
On the flight home, I didn't watch a movie. Thailand had found a place in my heart but so had the sadness I felt for the suffering of those un-named Elephants.
November 2012, back to Thailand, this time fully researched up on real Eco tourism and heading for Elephant Nature Park, north of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park has existed for just over 10 years and was founded by a truly amazing woman Lek Chailert, who has dedicated her life to the rescue and rehabilitation of these animals.
I hadn't been well that day and felt fairly fragile but the transfer arrived before I could cancel.
En route we were shown a video about the park, about the 30+ Elephants they had rescued, about their stories, about their lives. On the approach, I felt emotional, hoping I'd have the chance to atone for my jungle trek. I was not disappointed.
I was greeted by 'Dani', who's around 44 years old. She wasn't chained. She didn't do handstands. She didn't have to trek with people on her back.
'Dani' had worked daily hard labour from a young age, hauling trees in an illegal logging operation on the Thai Burmese border, where she risked being shot or standing on land mines every day. When things became too dangerous her owners decided to sell her for street begging. Fortunately she was rescued in 2010 and will now live out the rest of her long life roaming the vast valley at Elephant Nature Park as a free Elephant.
But my heart was stolen when I stood knee deep in the river with a bucket in my hand eye to eye with the beautiful 'Mae Lanna'. Because at this time I was allowed the privilege of washing the mud off her back and having a moment in time I will never forget. How wonderfully ironic that this youngster of 27, who had been rendered 85% blind due to 'work related injuries' while tourist trekking and illegal logging, was now being served by humans and would be for the rest of her days.
'Mae Lanna' was practically glued to her friend 'Medo' the whole time. Elephants I learned, make very strong, lifelong bonds with certain other Elephants, often gravitating towards those with similar life experiences. 'Medo' arrived at the park with horrific injuries, including a dislocated back, which left her fighting for her life for over 3 years. She is now well, albeit permanently disabled and has remarkably regained her trust in humans despite her treatment over the years.
On the flight home I didn't watch a movie. Thailand still had a place in my heart but so did the Elephants I'd met, all of whom had names and life stories.
Since then, my spare time mission has been to raise funds for Elephant Nature Park (ENP) and have done so by starting a fundraising group called 'The Red X Project.' This is in it's infancy however so far, I've done a sponsored cage dive with Great White Sharks in South Africa and more recently released a song on iTunes called "Where Will It End?" with all profits from it's sale going to ENP.
The song and video are about conservation issues and extremely thought provoking. It lays out some stark facts and begs the question "Where Will It End?" It forces us to ask what inheritance are we leaving our Children? Will they grow up knowing the earth and animals the way we did? Or will they be left with a mere fraction of what we had? The haunting voice of the Child sings "Take All You Need Now, It's Only For Greed Now." The moral choice is left to ignore what is happening or be part of the solution.
So retuning to my original question, can sharks or iTunes rescue Elephants? I really, really, hope so, but some of that might be up to you.
To find out more about the charity Elephant Nature Park, visit here www.elephantnaturepark.org
To find out more about The Red X Project, visit here www.facebook.com/TheRedXProject
To watch the video for 'WHERE WILL IT END?" visit here http://youtu.be/ufKyIyZkp4c
To buy the song and contribute to the Charity, visit:
ITUNES US https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/where-will-it-end-single/id606545393?uo=4
ITUNES UK https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/where-will-it-end-single/id606545393?uo=4
AMAZON US http://amzn.com/B00BMQTRP0
AMAZON UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Will-It-End/dp/B00BRMBBX0
GOOGLE PLAY https://play.google.com/store/music/album/The_Red_X_Project_Where_Will_It_End?id=Bwvpdchzrbf2cqi24atnwjo3a6e&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwyLG51bGwsImFsYnVtLUJ3dnBkY2h6cmJmMmNxaTI0YXRud2pvM2E2ZSJd
Follow Elaine Ross on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRedXProject1