It is always heartbreaking to see animals suffering. Fortunately, there are often heroic stories of people saving these majestic creatures. It is especially touching when one of these downtrodden creatures recognizes and visibly appreciates the efforts made on its behalf.
That is the story of Sook-Jai, an Asian elephant, who cried after rescue workers and volunteers struggled to bring her safely to a preserve run by the Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand.
Sook-Jai is 73 years old and deaf and blind.
Using elephants as work animals, as well as part of their tourism industry, is part of a long tradition in Southeast Asia. During recent years the practice has come under renewed criticism by environmental groups, however, due to the poor attention given to the elephants well-being. For instance, one of the most inhumane parts of training a new elephant involves something called, “crushing,” which involves locking the elephant in a cage, alone, for long periods of time.
While it is not certain that Sook-Jai was a victim of this particular technique, rescue workers and volunteers found her with extensive wounds to her head and other parts of her body. These were quickly treated before the journey to the sanctuary began.
But it was clear that Sook-Jai had other wounds, as well, ones that were not so readily apparent.
During the transportation of Sook-Jai, which took little over a day, the volunteers stopped regularly to monitor her well-being. Partway through the journey, Sook-Jai’s behavior gave volunteers pause. While she was clearly hungry, Sook-Jai was not eating.
Worried that this behavior might spell the end of Sook-Jai’s life even when introduced to the elephant sanctuary, a growing sense of foreboding began to overtake the group. Would Sook-Jai’s difficult life be too much for the pachyderm to overcome?
Fortunately, once they arrived at the sanctuary and Sook-Jai began to timidly inspect the trees surrounding her, the rescue workers found that the elephant was unable to contain her newfound happiness and relief, as she immediately began splashing in the mud and water.
They were shocked when tears began streaming down Sook-Jai’s face.
Sook-Jai’s story reminds us all just how important the efforts of conservationists are, and the amazing impact a group of determined people can make on the world. According to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, there are around 2700 domesticated elephants in Thailand. This number is down from 100,000 since 1850, but conservation efforts continue.
It is hoped that one day all of Thailand’s elephants will get a second chance like Sook-Jai.
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