Keeping warm with Boon Thong
When Boon Thong was rescued in 2013 by Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary from a trekking camp in Pattaya, she was in a terrible condition. Around 65 years old, malnourished and scarred from abuse, she has slowly but surely gained confidence (and weight) from months of care at BLES.
I arrived during an particularly cold winter for the north of Thailand, so as night fell, the staff and guests began to make her a fire.
Meanwhile, as the fire was getting going, others helped to secure Boon Thong's blankets around her for the night.
Boon Thong, despite months of the fresh fruit and vegetable all-you-can-eat buffet for the BLES elephants, had still not gained as much weight as she could. She is still very old and so many years of ill health and neglect can't be undone in a few short months. The blankets will just help her retain that extra bit of heat; every little helps.
Boon Thong is a quiet and peaceful elephant and everyone kept the noise and fuss (and the number of puppies underfoot!) to a minimum while she was being set up for the night.
With a healthy fire burning and the blankets fastened, the guests retreated to their rooms and Boon Thong began to settle in for the night. She had moved away from the hustle and bustle, but as the humans and the puppies left her to relax and the sounds of the forest took over, she made her way back towards the fire and stayed next to the hut, in her favourite spot.
Coincidentally, this is also the spot where there was a small pile of delicious food waiting for her...
BLES is an oddity in that while there is so much happening there all the time, you still have no choice but to relax. As a guest, anyway... resident vet nurse Lucy has a whole menagerie to look after, not just the elephants. But even if you care for the elephants daily, when you're in the forest with such a serene elephant, the stars and an open fire, it's impossible not to take a moment to take stock.
Unlike most other animals, I feel that elephants are very special in that simply being alone with an elephant feels like you are getting to know them.
Despite reading about the stories behind the rescues, the treatment that these animals have endured and seeing the medical problems first hand, it is actually in times like this that the work of BLES and organisations like it really makes it's impact.
Just seeing Boon Thong under a sea of stars with everything that she needs and the peace and quiet she prefers, it's impossible not to think about what was nearly an entire lifetime of cruelty for her, and to wonder if she is thinking about it too.
Time and time again we see rescued animals that have endured decades of mistreatment and then wonder how they perceive the kind of freedom that they must simply never have thought possible.
Boon Thong approaches me for the first time, and then moves closer to the fire. I say goodnight and leave her with a trunk-full of food.
Morning comes and since she is still the most frail of the elephants at BLES, Boon Thong is the first call of the day.
Despite the cold night and frosty morning, Boon Thong greets us happily by the smouldering fire. Not six months before, Boon Thong would now begin her day of work and abuse, but today she is ready to move to the field out front, where she knows more food arrives every morning.
Just another night at BLES.