Little MeBai was taken from her mother when she was just three-years-old to go through the “training crush.” National Geographic describes this brutal practice as a centuries-old ritual intended to domesticate young elephants through pain and fear, where they’re subjected to beatings and deprived of sleep, water and food to break their spirits and make them more submissive to their owners.
According to the Elephant Nature Park (ENP), when MeBai’s training was done, her owner hired her out to a tourist camp to be used in a mahout training program and used to give tourists rides. Sadly, she stopped eating and became too thin to work. Thanks to the efforts of the ENP and its founder, Lek Chailert, her owner decided to let her go to the organization’s Pamper A Pachyderm program, which takes in elephants from trekking programs for rehabilitation.
Soon after taking her in and helping her overcome her fear of humans, her caretakers discovered MeBai’s mother Mae Yui was at a nearby tourist camp and they then convinced Mae Yui’s owner to allow her baby to visit.
Workers and volunteers embarked on a four day journey escorting MeBai by foot to bring the two back together. Despite the years they spent apart, it’s clear that neither one forgot the other. In an update, Chailert said the two were shocked and stood quiet for half an hour before they began to touch and talk non-stop to each other.
Imagine her many nights filled with panic and fear, a child alone, injured and confused, for three and half years she stood in the rain and the sun without her mother, for three and a half years she entertained the human need for subservience.
Now she enjoys the companionship of her mother – she feels like the little baby again. She feels safe when she sleeps, because her mother stands over her. She sleeps deeply and snores loud in the jungle. Some times she wakes up and tries to drink milk from her mother’s breast. It is such a beautiful moment.
More amazingly, Mae Yui’s owner also agreed to retire her and the two will now be able to spend the rest of their days together enjoying a bond that should never have been broken. They will be rehabilitated together at the Karen Elephant Experience, a project supported by ENP, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild.
Hopefully this heartwarming reunion will help remind us that elephants, and other animals used in tourism and entertainment, aren’t gimmicks to be used for profit, but intelligent, emotional beings who belong in the wild. For more info and updates on MeBai and Mae Yui, check out the Elephant Nature Park.