Update on January 18, 2018
Since Lucky’s retirement in August there has been much progress as well as the usual hurdles to overcome when working between 2 cultures.
Our first challenge was we had one of the worst floods in 15 years immediately after Lucky retired and moved to Sapana. Our head mahout, Som, who has been with Lucky for 6 years went home to check on his family and couldn’t return due to roads being blocked. The water came up so fast all over the town of Sauraha and was almost touching the elephant’s feet in their raised shelters at Sapana. Lucky and the Sapana elephants had to be moved to safety, higher ground a few kilometres away. We lost some of our supplies at this time – tools and bottles of gas used to cook her rice, and we had to re-build her shelter as quickly as possible.Since then things have been moving forward, with my working relationship with Som getting stronger. We have been spending time getting to know each other and talking about future directions for the project to take. Sometimes Som gives me a cheeky smile when I bring a new idea to him, but he is willing to try and find a solution that suits all, collaborating in expanding the project so that Lucky’s care is the best it can be. It’s a sensitive balance between Nepali culture and methods of working with elephants, and my ideas from seeing successful programs in Thailand and bringing these ideas to this country. The priority and focus is always on Lucky Kali’s health and well being, Som’s safety in the new way of doing things and guest security when they are around Lucky.One of the biggest steps has been Som walking on the ground with Lucky Kali rather than on her back. This shows their relationship is changing and there is trust and respect from both sides. He is being gentle in his commands now, using a soft voice and allows her to stop and dust bathe which is usually discouraged with elephants in Nepal, because they need to be clean for mahouts and tourists to ride. As Lucky is not giving rides Som is starting to see that she can be covered and it’s OK. For elephants having dust on their bodies helps regulate their temperature and protect them from the elements and insects, so I am happy to say that most of the time she is completely covered and spends lengthy periods of time throwing dust all over herself!Due to all the changes in her life since retirement her health has improved dramatically. She is spending so much time roaming freely every day that she can now engage in normal elephant behavior – digging with her feet, scratching on trees, breaking branches to chew on and bathing as much as she wants. Her feet are healing nicely as she is naturally filing her nails down as she digs in the soil, and she only needs very small trimming on a regular basis. Som comments that she is looking so happy now and that is the best compliment I can get as he knows her so well.
It’s not easy to feed an elephant in Sauraha, and we need to regularly find places where people are happy for us to cut branches for her and transport them to her shelter. Sometimes this can be kilometres away. We are trying to make sure she has access to as much ‘jungle food’ as possible, and this involves developing many connections in the community.
Since the start of the New Year we have been able to start guest walks with Lucky in the early morning. Being Winter the mornings are extremely misty and seeing her emerge from the river crossing is quite an incredible sight. It has taken several days to get organized into a routine, but things are now going extremely well. We have had quite a few guests book in the walks, and they have all been very respectful of the non-contact rules and in awe and amazement of how special it is to walk beside an elephant. It is an important part of the program that guests stay a respectful distance from Lucky and it has been such a relaxing and peaceful experience that everyone has commented on how much they have enjoyed their time watching her and learning about normal elephant behavior.We are working on adding another program in the afternoon where people can come and spend time watching Lucky roam free. She can choose to swim in the river, play in the mud or just graze in the grasslands. All money raised from these activities goes directly to her food and care and shows other local operators that there is another way tourists will pay to see an elephant instead of riding one.
Again I want to thanks Dhruba Giri, owner of Sapana Village Lodge for providing the location for our program and his angoing support. This program is only possible with the financial assistance from Donna Marshal and her organisation Direct Aid Nepal – as she has paid the rent for Lucky Kali for one year as well as our new bamboo bridge and two towers for the general safety for guests, mahouts and Lucky Kali when she is free roaming.
I was extremely lucky to meet Jack from the US and hear his passion for helping elephants here in Sauraha. He has been our volunteer for 2 weeks, walking ahead of the guests and making a small fire out close to where Lucky enjoys grazing. We take out some tea and Jack has learnt to cook a simple snack for us all to enjoy whilst watching Lucky do what comes naturally. I am very grateful that we met and his enthusiasm has been wonderful. He has been so motivated by working with Lucky that he’s even writing her a song!I am so proud of what Lucky’s team of supporters in Nepal and abroad have achieved in such a short period of time. You all know who you are and I couldn’t do it without your support which has come in so many different ways. With all these developments in five months, I can only imagine what we can achieve in the future for Lucky Kali and hopefully other elephants in Sauraha.
I will keep you updated when I can – between cutting branches, trimming nails and discussing strategies with Som, and when the internet is working effectively. I know you are appreciative that my priority is doing the ground-work for the success of the project.
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