How it all began
By: founder and director Antoinette van de Water
The name “Bring the Elephant Home” came from the first project of our organization: to bring two elephants from unnatural environments, such as street begging, back to a more suitable and natural home for elephants. At the moment we work mostly to take care of the natural home of elephants. This is how we started!
The journey began in 2002 when I traveled to Thailand and volunteered at Elephant Nature Park. In this sanctuary for retired elephants from the life of begging, performance and other treacherous deeds, I fell in love with a just rescued baby elephant Ging Mai that had lost his mother. The founder of the Elephant Nature Park, Sangduen ‘Lek’ Chailert, gave Ging Mai all the love and nurturing he needed to survive like a surrogate mother. On a journey to Bangkok, I encountered another baby elephant in much need; begging for food on Khao San Road, the tourist mecca of the city. This baby had a look of such terror in his eyes that it changed the course of my life forever. It broke my heart, but I wasn’t able to do anything to help this begging baby elephant.
Thai elephants off the street
Two years later, I returned to volunteer again at Elephant Nature Park, this time with a plan. What if I could save two street begging elephants and bring them home to the jungle, making a publicized educational tour through Thailand? With a head full of ideas, advice, cautions, inspiration and determination to make it happen, I returned home to the Netherlands and registered the Bring the Elephant Home Foundation.
In Surin in November 2005 I found two elephants – Sri Nuan and Dok Ngeon – desperately in need of rescue from dire situations. Dok Ngeon looked so stressed: screaming, shaking and rocking her head. She was in training to learn new tricks, like playing a mouth harmonica. It is clear to see how animal unfriendly this training is, there were a lot of scars and fresh wounds as evidence of this. Sri Nuan (47 years old) was also a begging elephant. Her mahout told me that Sri Nuan broke her chain one night and run away. On a rice field someone shot her with a slingshot and hit her in the eye. Her baby Nhung Nhing was sold to a show when she was only 8 months old. Traumatized by the lost of the baby, blinded on one side, she was still begging on the streets.
Sri Nuan, Dok Ngeon and the elephant rescue team started a adventurous and breathtaking journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north. During the journey the team organized elephant lessons at local schools, held art competitions and brainstormed with local governments in the cause of helping street begging elephants to return home.
And lately they finally found a wonderful home forever in the ENP. Bring The Elephant Home began an adoption program and fundraising campaigns to support the ongoing care of these elephants at ENP. This program has expanded to include other elephants rescued by BTEH over the years.
People became aware about the plight of street elephants and more people visit animal friendly parks such as the Elephant Nature Park. But we still have a lot of work to be done!
The more I learned about elephants, the more I became aware that deforestation is the cause of many problems elephants are facing. To help Asian elephants we needed to do something about that. Over the last ten years, in its efforts to protect Asian elephants and their habitat, BTEH has developed an integrated approach: combining practical action, community participation, education, research and capacity building.
BTEH has been working in different geographical areas, landscapes, climates and political conditions. This diverse range of activities has produced a learning curve and exceptional results. We learned that involvement of the local community is essential for conservation projects, that protecting habitat is more important than rescuing individual animals and how much people love to participate in conservation projects, if you give them a chance.
Throughout the years our focus has shifted a little in the direction to protect wild elephants. But this does not mean we do not support elephants in captivity anymore: where it is needed the most, where we can really make a difference, and in situations where we don’t contribute to the trade in elephants. BTEH believes that protecting wildlife is not just the responsibility of governments. It must involve all: local communities, youth, students, scientists, NGOs, rangers, and everyone who cares about preserving the wonders of nature. BTEH includes all these stakeholders to learn about conservation work, to undertake fieldwork and to realize positive change.
I cannot imagine a future without elephants. And yet, elephants are disappearing in front of our eyes. In my opinion, all elephants should be living in the wild. If this is not possible, they should be able to live in an environment as natural as possible, where they can be as free as possible. Bring the Elephant Home has been working in a very practical way to help the wild elephants surviving. We planted 600.000 trees, constructed over hundred check dams to store water, added salt-licks, protected the forest from fire, all with the help of hundreds of volunteers. In the areas where we work, we see the forest recovering. We can see more species of plants and even wildlife. With a little help, ecosystems can thrive again.
There is still a lot of work to do. In the years to come the elephants, once again, can count on Bring the Elephant Home. Together we will continue to make a difference!
Warm regards, Antoinette van de Water
PS: Watch the video with the highlights of ten years of Bring the Elephant Home: