Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ki Chang - A Story of Endless Elephant Poo

At Elephant Nature Park, the elephants are cared for by three separate yet equally important groups: the feeders, who plant, clean, cut, and feed the elephants their food; the bathers, who wash and scrub the elephants, and the cleaners, who sort, shovel, and compost their poo. These are their stories.

“Volunteeeeeeeeeeeeers!!!!!!!!  You shovel elephant pooooooooooooooo!”  Chay screeched.  As the group trudged over at 7: 55 in the morning, Chay continued, with boundless enthusiasm, “What, you no like pooooooooooooooooooooo?”  And so another day began at ENP, the Elephant Nature Park.
Chaaaaaaaaaaaaay - the most bubbly and enthusiastic volunteer coordinator.
And as he is quick to point out, his name means man, not tea.

Elephant Nature Park is a haven for abused and injured elephants.  The organization rescues, rehabilitates and cares for elephants from across Thailand in a peaceful haven outside Chiang Mai.

ENP's scenic riverside location
Jesse and me with Lek, the inspiring founder of Elephant Nature Park, and a bunch of hungry ellies.

The first thing the elephants do at ENP is eat.  And elephants eat a lot; 37 elephants really eat a lot.  Like me, it seems the only thing elephants think about is eating.  So each day we hauled, cleaned, cut, mashed, and hand-fed hundreds of pounds of fruit to the resident elephants.  We planted corn, pumpkin, and pineapple for future generations of elephants.  And these lucky ellies were only fed locally-sourced, pesticide-free, organic food (we should all be so lucky). 
The food was prepared (washed, scrubbed, cut and sorted) in the ellie kitchen.
It was big.
This is 5% of the elephants' daily food.
Yes.  5%.
Fresh watermelon.  Yum.
Juicy ripe pineapple.  Also yum.
Green unripe bananas.  Not yum (for me).
Pumpkin.  I didn't even know how to sample these guys.
Just one of the racks of bananas in the ellie kitchen
Endless rows of pumpkins ready to be washed
Niki (with corn-rabbit ears), Amy and I shuck corn so the ellies wouldn't have to.
Supposedly they make a real mess with the husks (as if I didn't...).
Also, look at the size of that pile we are sitting on.  By the end of the day it was all shucked, cleaned, and eaten.
Here we polish the outside of the watermelons.
Then I took a break.
And, if I may say so, cut quite the sexy watermelon figure.
And we're back to work.
Washing pumpkins is less fun than washing watermelons.
Jesse, always dedicated, scrubs the outside of a pumpkin
And the end result.  Baskets and baskets of food that make the smallest dent in an elephant's daily food consumption.
Bananas ready to go in their cute picnic hampers.  How quaint.
Then you realize the elephants eat the entire basket in one or two bites!

A special birthday watermelon with banana candles.
This "cake" was made to celebrate Taryn's special day.
The elephant recipient loved it.
In fact, she ate the entire masterpiece in one quick bite (with juices dribbling down her chin).
But when the feeding began, it all seemed worth it.

Food? Fruit? Freshly washed and polished?
Feed me!
Seriously!  Start the feeding!  I'm ready!
Right there?  In the mouth?
And we're done.
There goes the birthday cake!
C'mon guys!  One more?  Please?
I'm still hungry!!!!!!!!!
Walking away was really hard for me.  I knew exactly how they felt.
The second activity in an ENP elephant’s day is bath time.  Like Jesse, elephants are very concerned with their skin.  Wanting it to stay healthy and youthful-looking they fling dirt, mud, and grass on their backs to act as a natural sunscreen.  Each day we marched the elephants into the river where they rolled around like, well, like me, flopping this way and that, making huge splashes, and generally goofing around.
Yup, just like me, rolling and playing about in the water.
You know he is saying, "Look at me!  Look at me!"
Even the babies get to play in the river!
And then the whistle blows and all the boys have to get out of the pool.
Except for some naughty ones who literally run and try to hide on the opposite river bank.
Their mahuts (trainers) then have to swim across and persuade/bribe them back with offers of fresh fruit
(thankfully I'd prepared plenty earlier that morning). 
After their fun was over, ours began.  We would dump buckets of water all of over the lady elephants, scrubbing off the dirt and mud they had just applied.  It was very fun, like being in a water-fight with a giant target that loved to get blasted in the face, side, or butt and never fought back (but I could not say the same for the other volunteers; or perhaps more accurately, they could not say the same about me…)
You can really gang up on them.
Right in the face!
A little scratch and scrub behind the ears. Everyone likes that.
We pounded it out after some seriously good splashes
Wait a minute, that's not a elephant!

Neither is that!
The best part?
Niki had no idea what was happening.
This is great fun.
Jarod was just as vicious as I was.
I loved washing the ellies.
Also, look at those kick-ass croakies.
Immediately after bathing them, the elephants would march out of the water, and just as the instructions say, reapply.  The dirt began flying, and within minutes their clean, glistening skin was just as dirty and filthy as it was right before their bath.

And do you know what happened to the tons of food we meticulously prepared for the elephants?  Well, shit.  Literally, tons of shit.  Great big piles of poo that had to be shoveled out of the elephants' sleeping areas, eating areas, clinic areas, and bathing areas.  And while other guests walked around the park cooing and playing with the elephants, we were there, behind the scenes, cleaning up the football sized messes left behind.
Charlie Company.  On poo-duty.
Just the type of equipment you might want for poo shoveling duty.
Too bad.  These boots were not available for poo shovelers.
I never found out who got to wear them.
Not pooing.  Just scratching
Let the poo shoveling begin!
Jesse shows the technique.
Bending at the back?  Is that the proper form?
Strong. Confident. Poo-shoveler. Just what I looked for in a wife.
Chay, Jesse (look at that pose!), and Shannon getting into it
Amy (left) thinking about shoveling poo.
Dave (right) accepting his poo-shoveling station in life.
Niki (center) hits a glamour pose behind a giant pile of poo.
Shoveling poo. Wearing Blue Steel. (Or is that Magnum?).
So much poo the tractor can't even start.
Its no big deal that the wheels flung up lots of poo as I pushed.
I loved it.  This was just one of many many tractor loads we loaded up each morning.

 Break time!
Every poo shoveler needs a break.
Here Amy and I demonstrate.

"Shovel my poo volunteer!  SHOVEL!!!"
And we're all back to shoveling poo, in a classic poo-shoveling montage
Giving thanks
Here we thank the ellies for making all that poo and giving us a job.
And we're spent.  What a morning.
Hundreds of pounds of poo.
And it will all be back tomorrow morning.
The poo was actually not as bad as it sounds.  It didn’t really smell (supposedly because they only eat veg and much of that is very fibrous corn and bamboo stalks) and flies weren’t really that interested in their poo.  And after a morning of shoveling shit, you feel pretty good, and in my mind at least, earned yourself a second giant plate at the lunch buffet.  I’m glad I didn’t have to shovel any of that poo.

But cleaning fruit, shoveling poo, and washing elephants was not the only things to do at ENP.  The rest of the week was filled with great times.

Elephant Kisses

 I puckered up, but when she tried to slip me the tounge (trunk) I had to pull away.

The Food
The food for the volunteers was delicious.  A huge buffet each day with delicious thai food.  And you know what a morning of manual labor means?  As many plates as you want!
Just be sure to get into the buffet line early!
Other rescued animals
ENP was home to tens of super-cute kittens. 
And over 70 dogs!  True!
Including a few who slept in impossibly cute baskets!
And newly-rescued Eddie Machete, so named because his owner (horrifyingly) slashed him with a machete
The kitchen pack waits around for dropped morsels.
There was even a resident sun (or maybe moon?) bear.  He was adorable despite his massive claws.
I can't believe they let us play with him.
And each night a team of thai masseurs would visit to massage our tired bodies for the most reasonable $4 USD per hour.
Jared and Jesse getting full body treatments.
A Visit to Elephant Jungle Camp
Where we planted new jungle and helped build a mud house.
Jesse loves gardening
And I got to use to a huge razor sharp weed (actually giant bamboo) whacker.
These two thai people planted trees with us.
They were in their eighties, and embarrassingly, planting twice as many trees as we young'ins did.
Nothing like getting your hands dirty when building a mud house.  It was pretty unavoidable.
Our week at ENP was good.  We met great people, worked for a good cause, and played with elephants in a natural and beautiful environment.  More importantly, we learned about the hardships and dangers Asian elephants face.  These endangered species face violent, abusive training regimes that “break” their will, and a life of hard-labor and bondage when working in the logging and tourist industries.  You can learn more about ENP, the Asian Elephant, and how you can help at their website:

Dave and Jesse with the volunteer coordinators: James, Chay and Tep.
And look who else wants to get int he photo.  Just one of the many ellies we took care of all week.
The whole volunteer group.
Note Jesse's proper asian hand positioning.
Lots more photos can be found here.

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