Asian Elephants: Animals not Attractions
On my first Saturday in Huay Pakoot we participated in a 24-hour challenge facilitated by three of our interns as part of their intern project. The goal of the challenge: raise awareness that elephants are animals, not attractions. The challenge was part of a larger, on-going fundraiser to raise money to keep the elephants in the forest. For the challenge we mimicked activities that elephants are forced to do in tourist camps, for instance pulling logs, balancing tricks and painting.
We arrived at the school at 10 am and were split into two teams. The weather didn’t seem to want to cooperate, but that made it all the more fun. The first part of our challenge was a tire pull relay. Each team had one member tie a rope attached to the tire around their waist and then they had to pull the tire across a field and back to their team where they would pass the tire onto the next team member. Our side of the field was a bit of a swamp but that didn’t stop us to running straight through the mud and cheering our team members on.
The second competition was a chicken fight. Each team sent a member forward to balance on two parallel sticks of bamboo and try to push the other team’s player off first. The bamboo was slippery and the ground was mudding making it all the more difficult and fun. The village kids joined in and we were all laughing and cheering as each pair made their way forward. The third competition was Pictionary. But there was a catch: you could only hold the paint brush with your mouth. The first member of each team picked a sheet of paper with a word on it and they had 45 seconds to paint whatever was written on the sheet and for the rest of the team to guess what it was. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s REALLY hard to paint only using your mouth.
The last challenge of the morning was soccer, a game often undertaken by elephants in camps. Each person had a partner that they were tied to around the legs. The field was super muddy and mid-way through it started to pour. Nevertheless the fun didn’t stop. Everyone was laughing and having an incredible time despite being up to their elbows in mud. But, the fun didn’t stop there. As we were taking a picture, people picked up mud from the ground and started throwing at people thus starting a mud fight. People were wrestling each other, rubbing it in other people’s hair, and by the end everyone was covered head to toe in mud, literally. It almost seemed unfair to the elephants, having so much fun doing things that were supposed to imitate activities that are so difficult for them.
Before the final part of the challenge, we all brought our food up to base to share amongst us all. Personally, these dinners are my favorite because you get to eat with everyone and you get to try lots of other house’s food. After dinner, starting at 7pm, we did a 12-hour fast and attempted to stay up all night, as in camps elephants are sometimes forced to go long periods of time without eating or sleeping. We all stayed at base for the night to see who could stay up the longest while we watched lots of movies and just hung out.
While we had way more fun with these challenges than the elephants have doing similar activities in camps, it definitely gave me insight into how elephants in camps are treated. Congratulations to the interns for finding a fun way to get the point across that elephants are meant to be wild not kept in camps forced to do things against their nature. At this point, camps are a necessary evil; without them there wouldn’t be much of a way to keep elephants but there are some camps that are much more humane than others and those are the ones that we need to support. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my first Saturday here any other way.
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