Today was our first full day of work at the animal sanctuary. After the most delicious vegetarian meal imaginable – seriously! Everyone agreed it’s the best food we have eaten on this trip… We were separated into two groups to work for the day. Group ‘Arun Rai’ was to start the day cutting sugar cane for the elephants and group ‘Kham Lin’ was going to help with creating a fire-break that will help protect the animals and the jungle habitat during the dry season. The work was hot and if you were cutting the cane, prickly, but very rewarding. After a well-deserved lunch break, groups were divided up again to complete their afternoon activities. ‘Arun Rai’ had the task of heading into the jungle, to the Elephant bathing dam, where they got to wash the real ‘Arun Rai.’ While ‘Kham Lin’ had the job of helping the local military base, whose job is to protect the wildlife reserve. Our job today was to start building toilet and shower blocks for the 250 staff on the site. We had to dig a 1.5m trench in the ground and since the first was predominantly gravel, slow progress was made.
After working for a couple of hours, it was time to return to the Elephant Sanctuary where, on the way home, sitting in the back of a ute, we ended up being caught in pouring rain! It was a hilarious situation to be caught up in and everyone agreed that it was an amusing experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Upon our return, everyone wet from either bathing with Arun Rai or being caught in the rain, we were all given the opportunity to feed the Elephants. The expressions of joy on people’s faces is priceless.This evening was filled with food and documentaries. We have been enlightened regarding the cruelty involved in domesticating the elephants that you see on the streets in Asian countries, where elephants are used for rides etc. if you have not watched the National Geographic film “Vanishing Giants” it is time that you did!
As the sanctuary is geographically isolated, we spend our evenings with simple activities. Card games and word games keep us entertained until the generator is turned off at 10pm. Then, we sleep… unless, of course, the rats wake us in the night…
Once again the two groups headed off to complete different activities. Today ‘Arun Rai’ was to start the day working on the fire-break, while ‘Kham Lin’ weeded the young saplings growing near the elephant bathing dam. It was hot and sweaty work and we were all grateful for a glimpse of Kham Lin, walking through the forest with her ‘Mahout’, only meters away from where we were working. After lunch ‘Arun Rai’ went and worked on the military base and continued to dig the trench through the gravel. It is slow progress but everyone worked together. Today ‘Kham Lin’ had the honour of bathing the elephant Arun Rai down in the dam. Everyone was so excited. They were given small buckets and scrubbing brushes, so they could pour water over Arun Rai and scrub her clean. Looking at the water fight that ensued, more water seemed to land on the volunteers than the elephant! After a bit of water play it was time to head back to camp, so that we could prepare the food for the elephants, today’s menu consisted of sugar cane, papaya and bananas. At feeding time everyone jumped at the opportunity to once again be near these gentle giants, feeding them and petting them… After feeding time we were given some relaxation time before dinner. Some people decided to play a game of volleyball. Their dedication was great, as they continued to play even when it started raining! Evening entertainment consisted of more short films that explained the background of, and the relocation of, both elephants and the conservation military. The animal sanctuary has been clever, as it has employed local animal poachers and re-trained them as wildlife Rangers. These people are experts at identifying poachers traps and by giving them paid employment, the sanctuary has limited the amount of illegal poaching that occurs on sanctuary’s land. Once again card games were played and then it was time for bed.