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Lord of the Elephants
05 Jan 2011
It’s six o’ clock in the evening on the outskirts of the northern Thailand town of Chiang Rai. The sunset over the mountains bordering Thailand, Myanmar and Laos once again puts on another spectacular show with hues of bright orange and reds. A slight mist has started to form on the mighty Mekong as the temperature starts to drop. As if on cue the insects, animals and birds start their nightly song. But tonight there’s another song that drifts through the mountains, each verse being occasionally punctuated by the sounds of loud trumpeting. Meet Khun Lord and Lychee.
The trust between the one tonne pachyderm and the old man is unmistakable. Born in a small village in north east Thailand, Khun Lord, Anantara Golden Triangle’s Resort & Spa Elephant Camp’s most experienced mahout, comes from a long line of mahouts and the skills that he has learnt has been passed on from generation to generation.
In a country where elephants are revered, Khun Lord at a very young age was told to have the upmost respect for the giants, “I would be walking with my father and he would point out other mahouts who would hit their elephants with a spiked stick and he would turn to me and say, never do that to your elephant, to gain her trust you need to treat your elephant well. Once that bond has formed between animal and man it will last a lifetime.”
Elephant calves begin their training when they are about two to three years old. They quickly learn and obey the words of command. They get to know their driver (mahout), and get used to being mounted and dismounted. Unfortunately many mahouts throughout Thailand still use force to domesticate wild elephants and use them to attract tourist dollars on the busy streets of Bangkok, or in Lychee’s case Pattaya. The Anantara Elephant Camp in Chiang Rai has been set up to house such animals and to date has rescued 32 elephants off the streets and relocated both them and the mahouts family to the lush 160 acre property.
“It pains me to see how some people treat these beautiful creatures. I have a good, kind heart and I want my elephant to have a good, kind heart too, so when I got my first elephant 35 years ago I trained her in the most unconventional manner by singing and tickling.
“I would first find a song with a command in the words and sing and tickle her on different parts of her body, most of the other mahouts thought I was crazy singing to an elephant but that soon passed when they saw the results.
“To think, one hundred years ago there were over 200,000 wild elephants roaming Thailand now there are only 2, 000,” he explains as Lychee gently nudges him with her trunk, “These are the most intelligent creatures on earth and our nations symbol they deserve our utmost respect.”
Khun Lord starts singing sweetly as he tickles Lychee’s trunk and she automatically lies down beside him and closes her eyes, “This song is a sweet lullaby, the lyrics mention to lay down your head and go to sleep. See how smart she is, she has a great memory. Don’t tell the other elephants but I also think she’s by far the cutest elephant here at the camp,” he gently smiles at his one tonne beauty as he softly starts singing to her again.
When asked what is the favorite part of his job is Khun Lord gestures towards the slumbering giant, “This is my favorite part of my job, the special bond that you have between elephant and man, I feel so proud of the mutual respect, it’s a bond that is rare and a bond only between a mahout and elephant,” he pauses for a few seconds then pipes up, “Oh and I love to sing, you may have heard of a horse whisper before but I bet you’ve never heard of an elephant singer,” and with that he breaks into another melodic tune.
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