Elephants have long been a part of Asia’s landscape, either in the wild or as working animals in the logging industry. Sadly however in both cases, they are increasingly under threat.
In the wild their habitat is under pressure from human encroachment – it is not unknown for irate farmers to poison elephants who eat their crops. Working elephants who are sick or injured are of no further use and are abandoned as are those who have simply become too old.
There are many camps and sanctuaries for these poor pachyderms but the COVID pandemic has seen many of them lose their only form of financial support – tourism. In Thailand alone, 85 elephant camps have closed in 2020 due to a lack of funds.
Last month Happy Ali highlighted a unique scheme to provide assistance for distressed elephants. Australian organization Human Elephant Learning Programs Foundation (H-ELP) proposed that for a modest fee, rather than us visiting the elephants, they could visit us. For as little as $100 you can hire an elephant to appear in your next Zoom meeting. So at Happy Ali, we did just that. You can read our Elephant in the Zoom story.
As well as our usual crew of founder, editors, journalists, and other key team members, we were joined by Sara, a beautiful 23-year-old elephant who appeared to take an intense interest in our meeting. She lives in a camp in northern Thailand run by the Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation which is jointly run by Anantara Golden Triangle and the Four Seasons Tented Camp.
To book your own elephant please visit the H-ELP website at h-elp.org. We can promise you that the jungles of Thailand make a far more interesting Zoom background than the bookshelves in our studies.
Many of the elephants taken into sanctuaries are very old, sick, or, because of mistreatment have become dangerously aggressive. Two years ago, a Yorkshire-born Bangkok-based musician, Paul Barton, and his Thai wife visited the Elephant World Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi in Thailand. He then made what must have been the strangest request ever made to them. Could he bring along his piano?
“We liked the sound of the place being a retirement centre for old, injured and handicapped former logging and trekking elephants,” he explains. “So we paid them a visit. I wondered if these old rescue elephants might like to listen to some slow classical music.”
Uncertain as to quite what this would achieve the sanctuary agreed. The results were astonishing.
Paul said the first time he played Beethoven for the animals, a totally blind, sick elephant was so entranced he stopped eating his breakfast.
“He was often in pain,” the pianist said. “I like to think maybe the soothing music gave him some comfort in the darkness.”
Paul plays Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, and other composers and the elephants respond by moving to the piano, waving their trunks, and flapping their ears. Some even appear to sing along to the music.
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” wrote the poet William Congreve and certainly this appears to be true. Even disturbed and aggressive elephants become calmer, soothed by Paul’s classical piano.
The Thais are used to the sight of backpackers carrying a guitar with them but Paul Barton must have been the very first to take along a piano.
To learn more, or to donate to what is a very worthwhile cause visit www.helpingelephants.org
Feature image via ABC