One Community. One Common Goal
by Volunteer Kelsey Smith
With over 3,500 domesticated Asian elephants in Thailand, it is only natural that they become a major part of the local community and this is no different for the Thung Kha Ngok area of Phang Nga.
Elephants throughout Asia are a constant fascination to humans. Of course we understand about tourists, who love to interact with the elephants, but we mustn’t forget that the elephant is an intrinsic part of Thai culture and the local people also love and respect these wonderful animals. Our staff maintain good relations with our neighbours; for example, the bond between Ohm, (Kwan-chaang to the beautiful Seanuan – right), has been strengthened to the point that locals leave treats for her as she heads out into the jungle to her favourite spots. It is always important respect one another’s boundaries but the balance has been refined by our Kwan-chaangs’ commitment and friendship with others living nearby.
We believe that at the heart of the community is the next generation of young minds. So, as part of our association with the Southern Thailand Elephant Foundation (STEF) we are striving to educate Thai children about the gentle nature of the Asian elephant. This aim is to help to preserve the delicate balance between humans and elephants, thus protecting elephants from further land loss. It will also allow us to work towards solidifying excellent elephant welfare practices, ensuring that the elephant is well protected in both the present and future.
This month at Phang Nga Elephant Park we played host to the Yaowawit School; visits such as these allow us to work towards our educational goals within the community and provide opportunities to nurture young opinions. The Yaowawit School was set up following the devastating tsunami that hit on Boxing Day 2004. The school now notably aims to educate children from underprivileged backgrounds and provide them with stimulating new challenges and experiences.
Twenty, bright and excited students aged 7-12 were welcomed into the Park to participate in several educational activities which were organised by our lovely Volunteers together with owners Jake and Lek. The children listened intently as Lek, also our head Kwan-chaang, talked them through a health check on the beautiful Bai-Ngern and discussed in further detail the cultural importance of the Asian elephant.
The group was also given the opportunity to craft nutrition balls for some of our girls whom they were very eager to meet! Jana, Tong-Sri, Bai-Ngern and Duong Jai did not disappoint as the children got the opportunity to feed and interact with these magnificent creatures up close.
The children were then given the opportunity to let off some steam by participating in an educational treasure hunt; clues were planted across the Park for the children to race around and find; the first to find the clue was rewarded with a Phang Nga Elephant Park T-shirt or eco water bottle as a keepsake. The final clue culminated in a grass seed planting activity at our plantation; here, we aim to grow food for our herd, thus making us more sustainable for the future.
It was an absolute pleasure meeting the children of Yaowawit and we hope that they will continue to return to us on a regular basis to assist in strengthening our ties with the local community, and to provide the children with enriching experiences that they can treasure indefinitely.
One definition of a community is ‘a feeling or fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals’. Here at Phang Nga Elephant Park, we want to ensure that this common goal is a love and respect of the Asian elephant. With every small interaction in the local community like our involvement this week, we take a small step towards achieving a unified set of goals and a brighter future for the Asian elephant.