Kennebec7 The Earth Trembled BlogA Story by Peter
Kennebec Entertainment introduces the Kennebec7, six heroic characters who have dared to break through the ordinary and conventional to show us how to transcend our limitations.
Perhaps you remember me. I was on YouTube, CNN, the BBC and local TV here in New Mexico.
I rescued an elephant mom in Thailand that was about to be killed for trying to protect her baby boy. Mimi is the mother and Bop is the adorable ‘little’ boy who was horribly abused by employees of an animal show.
Anyway, I was just a tourist on an elephant trek in northern Thailand when all this started. They said I stole an elephant and the army was searching for us in the jungle. I’m an artist from Santa Fe, and was creating celadon elephants, which people liked a lot.
Being the adventurous type, I decided to go to Thailand to experience elephants first hand. I had no idea about the cruelty and abuse inflicted on elephants, which are misused by some trekking companies, illegal loggers and people making money by forcing elephants to beg from tourists on crowded and polluted city streets.
Luckily I got to meet Lek Chailert, a famous Thai elephant savior, who started the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai. She and her staff have saved more than forty elephants from lives of suffering since her sanctuary opened a few years back. Today you can see the elephants yourselves, living natural peaceful lives without the stress of human demands.
In our movie, “The Earth Trembled,” the character based on Lek is called ‘Mint,’ short for the Thai name, Mintra.
My son Andrew came to Thailand, using his own meager savings, to help me rescue Bop from the Big Ears, Big Teeth animal show that bought the baby and almost killed him.
I’m back in Santa Fe these days, writing a book about my adventures. Andrew has returned to Long Island University, and we talk often. Finally, I am reunited with my son, just as Mimi is together again with Bop. They are both kicking up their heels, elephant style, at Lek’s Elephant Nature Park.
I hope you will see our amazing adventures, surviving snakes and scorpions in the jungle, when the movie “The Earth Trembled” comes out. Then I look forward to meeting you when I next visit Mimi and Bop at the Park.
The situation for elephants in Thailand is not so dissimilar from the plight of many wild animals across our planet today. Orangutans in Borneo, Bengal Tigers in India and elsewhere, pandas in China, gorillas in Rwanda. All endangered animals.
Man and beast compete for the ever-dwindling patches of land that have always sustained wild creatures. Land that humans fight over so they can grow food, cut down trees, dig up diamonds, and so forth.
From afar, however, people like me from countries like America, we have the impression that elephants are revered in Thailand. The country is shaped something like an elephant’s head. Elephants figure prominently in the art and history of the Kingdom. Elephants went to war on behalf of Thai kings.
Imagine my shock and disappointment when I arrived in Bangkok for the first time for the express purpose of trekking through Thai forests on the back of an elephant. The first elephant I saw was immersed in the middle of Bangkok’s infamous bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I was in a Toyota taxi, inching along amidst shiny black Mercedes, sleek BMWs, push carts selling food, and endless lines of motorcycles snaking in and out of traffic. Suddenly, ahead of me, looming above the sea of cars and motorcycles was a giant elephant, plodding slowly on the road like a mastodon among pigmies.
He was the first of many ‘begging’ elephants that I witnessed. They can be found in many Thai cities. Because logging was abolished in the Kingdom in the 1990s, owners of domestic elephants had to find a new line of work for their pachyderms. Begging. To quote Antoinette van de Water in her moving book, “The Great Elephant Escape,” ‘…She begs until all the bars and discos close. Drunks pull on her tail and try to make her drink beer. When (she) hungrily reaches out with her trunk to a restaurant table for leftovers, a customer throws hot coffee in her face….’
The scene I have described, where I saw my first begging elephant in Bangkok, appears in the screenplay, The Earth Trembled. I do hope that you’ll have a chance to see the film after it’s made. You’ll see what noble, intelligent and sensitive animals elephants truly are.
I was so ignorant. Here in Santa Fe, I had my art business. It was doing well. I had my team of Navajo artists who were making a variety of Native American art objects. I was inspired to get into elephants when I started making wearable accessories using the pachyderms made of Navajo fabrics. Then I got into celadon elephants, which were an immediate hit. I expanded into paintings of elephants, placing them in southwestern environments. Perhaps you’ve seen some. The most popular was the mother and baby elephant in the Grand Canyon. An adjunct to my essentially southwest product line, the elephants became my best sellers.
I felt I had earned some time off. I had spent hours and days with the elephants, but I had never seen a living elephant outside of a circus or a zoo. I headed off to Thailand to go trekking on the back of an elephant. There I was to become ‘schooled.’ First by dear Mimi, the mother elephant who became my companion and sole protector during my unexpected days in the jungle, and then I met Lek Chailert, the legendary founder of the Elephant Nature Park (www.elephantnaturefoundation.org), who has saved so many sick, injured and abused elephants in Thailand. She led Mimi and me out of the wilds.
In the movie, The Earth Trembled, which Kennebec7 is working to get financed, they dramatize the scene where I saved Mimi from being shot in the head after they stole her baby, Bop. In her rage, Mimi killed a mahout. She just grabbed him with her trunk and smashed him against a tree. I still shudder when I remember the sound of that body hitting the tree.
Elephants are giant, powerful creatures, and gentle until you mess with their families. I didn’t realize in those early days that any perception of danger triggers a violent reaction from the matriarchs and subsequently, the entire family. The extremes a mother like Mimi will go to protect her baby are reported in news stories as fits of unprovoked ‘elephant rage.’
It is simply not true. The ‘unprovoked’ part. On the trek I took part in, I was riding Mimi and little Bop was happily traipsing along beside her. Everything was quite peaceful. Then Bop got dizzy and fell over. Later I learned from Maitre that they had fed him some drugs hidden inside a tamarind ball.
Mimi immediately became alarmed and wanted to help Bop get up. They tried to force her to keep trekking and leave Bop behind. She threw me off her back and began attacking the men who were attempting to move Bop onto a truck that had suddenly showed up. The ultimate destination of the truck would be the Big Ears " Big Teeth animal show in Chiang Mai that had elephants and crocodiles. One of their own baby elephants was dying, and they planned to replace him with Bop. Before we could rescue him they actually tried to train him to play the harmonica!
As it turned out, Mimi and I, along with Mint (Lek), had other ideas, which I will share with you in future days.
Last time I gave you an example of what Mimi could do when she was enraged, when men harmed her baby, Bop. A mahout was killed. I was there. I saw it happen.
Now I want to tell you about the other moods I experienced during my days and nights in the jungle with Mimi. She could be funny, wise, kind and determinedly protective of me when danger threatened. She crushed a cobra, for instance, which was slithering toward me at our camp as dusk was settling in. I had no idea that a cobra was near me, but Mimi did. Another time she used her head as a battering ram to knock mangoes that I couldn’t reach out of a tree. That was my breakfast.
Elephants definitely possess a protective nature, even for other species. For example, I read a report recently about an African elephant who made repeated attempts to help a baby rhinoceros stuck in the mud. She continued to try to save the baby rhino despite the fact that its mom charged her each time. Imperiling her own life for the sake of a creature that was not her own, not related to her, or even her own kind, was remarkably altruistic, given nature’s usually harsh tendencies.
Even for we humans, the love of elephants for babies can seem astonishing. The one event that stirs a level of elephant joy beyond compare is the birth of a baby elephant. A calf is so small compared to the adult that it walks under its mother, who, amazingly, does not step on it or trip over it. Bop and Mimi stayed in constant touch. Mimi often touched her child with her trunk and feet, helping him to his feet with one foot and her trunk.
Now do you begin to get an idea why Mint and I were so determined to rescue Bop from Big Ears " Big Teeth, to bring him back to Mimi and to release both elephants at the sanctuary known as Elephant Nature Park? The trainers at the animal show had even begun to torture Bop, forcing him to stand in a tight ‘crushing’ box, poking him with pointed sticks, denying him food, expecting his spirit to be broken. Only when the baby’s spirit was broken would he be fit to train. To entertain the tourists, To breath into the harmonica. To make music.
Well, Mint and Dokë dealt with that slimy, unctuous Pierre, who ran the trekking camp, and my son Andrew and I dealt with Big Ears " Big Teeth. We were lucky, and it was a basketball-playing elephant named Kobe who actually saved Bop and me. Andrew had to fight off another guy, and….well….you’re supposed to wait for the movie.
When the fight to save Bop’s life and return the baby elephant back to his mother, Mimi, was won, we all celebrated at Lek’s Elephant Nature Park. My son Andrew and I swam with Mimi and Bop in the river there. They sprayed a lot more water on us than we could ever throw at them with our plastic buckets. We all had a jolly wet time.
A few days later I met Peter Alexander of Kennebec7. He was acquainting himself with the elephants who were hanging with Maximus, the 13-foot tall giant pachyderm. Peter had Rocky with him. They were buddies. Rocky is the five-year-old son of Jodi Thomas, one of the other mainstays at Elephant Nature Park, an American like me, who has bravely rescued her share of abused elephants.
I want to tell you Max’s story. He has passed away since Andrew and I first visited the Park. He was very old, but beloved by the other elephants and the scores of people who visit the Park each day. A generous man had purchased Max for Lek to celebrate his wife’s birthday. At that time Max was a broken down shell of his former self. His legs had been broken when he was hit by an 18-wheel truck during the homeless phase of his long life. He and his mahout were begging on city streets when he was felled by a different kind of behemoth traveling at fifty miles per hour. But, thanks to Lek and her wonderful team at the Park, Max recovered.
So many sad elephants have been amazingly rejuvenated at the Park after suffering the most hideous abuses. Lek told me, “To see the elephants that have been rescued from very bad conditions… when they first arrive at the park they are like the living dead. Their eyes are empty and they are so skinny. Yet today I find them happy, joining new family groups, healthy and starting to play again. That is the most joyful thing to me and makes my heart smile.”
However, Lek has many enemies. People who don’t want to change the animal culture of working elephants like beasts of burden and mistreating them to bend the elephants’ wills. People who resent the world-wide publicity Lek gets from the National Geographic, Time Magazine, Readers Digest, the BBC, the Discovery Channel and other mainstream media outlets. They seek revenge for the changes Lek has inspired in people’s perception of proper elephant care. Here’s one example:
Lek had rescued a three-day-old baby elephant stuck between two trees in the jungle. His mother had been had been shot dead by farmers. “Never before in history,” Lek said, “has it been documented that an elephant less than a week old survived without the mother. I stayed up with the baby, whom I named Ging Mai, day and night for six days.” Lek passed out on the seventh night. She had been providing the baby milk from a bottle. In the middle of the night Ging Mai woke her with a kiss. “It was then,” Shirley told me, “that I knew he would live.”
However, her enemies were oh so clever. Lek explains, “One day a group of men came to see Ging Mai "veterinarians- they said the government needed to check my baby elephant. This was just days before his first birthday. They injected him with cyanide. Ging Mai ran to the river and drank and drank water… I ran to him and he pushed at me… his eyes were all red. He was in agony and screaming. He died in my arms.”
© 2010 Peter
Trang, Trang, Thailand
AboutPeter Alexander is an award-winning documentary film and television commercial writer-director. His feature film and book projects are in development. more..