I had the pleasure of meeting this lady for the span of a few hours in July of 2013; Lek Chailert. A figure leading up elephant rescue and elephant awareness from her position in the Elephant National Park in Thailand. Someone keen to show the world just how wonderful these creatures are, and just how much of a loss it would be for everyone if they were suddenly all gone.
If I’m going to be honest, I did not know her name before meeting her. I did not know her name until I walked into the Elephant National Park to see a hand painted mural on the wall, a mural painted by school children from one of the nearby villages the Park supports. Her name was there, along with a quote… but I did not think that I would get to meet her. I learnt all about her work, and what she did, and from the stories that other people told about her I knew that she was something of a legend, especially in regards to the people who lived there and who knew her personally. When I did get the chance to meet her, I was overcome with excitement. She gave a talk, one of the nights I was there, on the skywalk in the park with the elephants still going about their nightime walks moving leisurely below us. She spoke about what she had seen, and what she had done, and her words more than anything made me realise just why creatures like elephants need our protection.
Except it’s not just elephants. Don’t get me wrong, she is not called the ‘Elephant Whisperer’ for nothing, but her work does not just stick tight to one species of creatures. In the park, living alongside the herd of elephants, were dogs, almost feral in the way they lived and the packs they formed, rescued from cities like Bangkok during the floods and from illegal traders. Each of the walkways was lined with little huts raised off the ground, in which slept the cats and the kittens; fed by humans, but otherwise left to roam free and be as natural as they were able to be. Peacocks strutted around, escaping their enclosures with a degree of cleverness that I had never seen before in a bird (except for my friend’s budgie, but that’s another story)… and when I was there, three tiny kittens arrived. Days old, found in a nearby village alongside their dead mother, who had been brought to the Park with the knowledge that they would be cared for.
It was, and still is, a place of peace for humans and animals of all kinds, from the large creatures with eyes that sang of unknown ages, right down to the smallest, youngest of creatures who had barely learnt to crawl. And all of it had come from Lek.
Her work has not been made known far outside the Thai borders, but her story is one of inspiration and it is nowhere near being over. The elephants she cares for are not victims of poaching (although the release of one of her elephants, Jungle Boy, was delayed during my stay there due to poaching activity in the land he was set to be released into, and Lek’s refusal to let such a thing happen), but the existence of this sanctuary can be used as an example by like minded people who wish to help those elephants which have survived the Ivory Trade, and those who wish to see no more harmed through it either.