While being tormented for much of her life, the poor elephant had been forced to endure untold tortures at the hands of her brutal taskmaster. Both her spirit and body had been broken. But as the rescue vehicle sped her to freedom, she couldn’t hold back her flowing tears.
Regardless of efforts by animal-rights groups, elephant abuse is still a problem in some countries. One such example is Thailand, where irresponsible owners are reportedly using the creatures for their own benefit. Typically, they have been used as a prop for street begging.
Indeed, money seems to be all some of the elephant’s handlers – or mahouts – care about. People do hand over money in order to feed the creatures, but the diet is often not enough to sustain them. As a result, they are often so hungry they rely on discarded trash to survive.
But it is not just bad diets that add to the suffering of street elephants. They are forced to walk scorching roads and give rides to humans. Some also endure severe brutality at the hands of their mahout as a method of control and punishment.
For example, one method of keeping an elephant in check is to use chains – often piercing their skin – to steer them. Another is the use of the so-called elephant goad, or bullhook. The spiked tool is used to jab and cut the animal as a means of control.
And that was the kind of life that this innocent elephant called Sook Jai was suffering. In addition to street begging, she was also used for elephant rides and trekking. Her existence was full of suffering which only ended because of the efforts of a hard-working rescue group.
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is an animal-rescue group based in northern Thailand. Its goal is to find and save abused elephants like Sookjai and give them sanctuary. In fact, it has its own park for just that reason.
It was while gentle Sookjai was being forced to wander the streets that she was brought to ENP’s attention. “A friend told us her story. [He] could no longer think of her carrying on to work,” the group revealed on its YouTube channel in January 2017.
In fact, the good Samaritan had been appalled by how Sook Jai was forced to work in her condition. The years of abuse had taken their toll on the poor elephant. She was covered in scars as a result of the torment she had endured.
“For more than seven decades this old girl [worked] under a human and a hook,” ENP explained on its Facebook page. “She lost an eye during the time that she walked the streets for money.” In addition, her remaining eye was blind.
That was far from the end of her scars, though. Not only had Sook Jai’s time on the streets taken her sight but it had also damaged another one of her senses, too. The poor elephant was almost completely deaf as a result of being exposed to the sound of traffic.
“Sook Jai had the good fortune of being found by a caring soul who wanted to help to change her life,” ENP posted on YouTube. “We went to see about Sook Jai four months ago. She deserved better than this, and to be free from harm.”
So the rescue group began the process of taking Sookjai to her rightful home. Under the circumstances, though, it was not a simple process. “As [with] many rescues, it does not always proceed readily,” ENP explained on its rescue video.
“Much time must be spent talking with the owner and to manage with the ministry papers for health and legal matters.” Eventually, though, Sookjai’s fortunes started to change and her freedom was approved through official channels. She even received a sponsor – singer Joan Baez – to help with financial matters.
On January 24, 2017, Sookjai was finally her own elephant. ENP picked her up from a place close to Kanchanaburi in western Thailand with the intention of delivering her to freedom. Granted, she faced a long trip to sanctuary, but now she was in good hands.
Initially – perhaps because she was unaware of her surroundings – Sookjai was reluctant to step onto the transport truck. Once she was settled, though, the rescue team tended to her wounds. Then they began their 24-hour trip to the elephant’s new home.
Because of the long trip facing her, the team were careful to make sure Sook Jai was prepared for the variable weather. The truck was wrapped up at night to keep her warm. Meanwhile, she was watered down when the hot daytime sun was beating down on her.
ENP also attempted to keep the elephant well fed. However, she either wouldn’t – or couldn’t – eat. “Sookjai looked so hungry, but she wouldn’t eat anything,” the rescue video described. “She was so tired and exhausted.” But it was her next reaction that melted hearts across the internet.
She began to cry. Tears flooded her eyes and streamed down her face as she approached EPN’s protected lands. It was as if she knew she was finally safe. And she wasn’t alone in shedding a tear of joy. Indeed, elephant lovers the world over have been crying with her as her reaction was captured on camera.
“Thank you to Joan Baez who [helped] us to bring about Sook Jai’s freedom,” ENP posted on Facebook. “For the rest of her life she will be loved and cared for. [She will be] protected from harm and allowed to form lasting bonds of friendship within our herd.”