People often say an elephant never forgets, and that certainly seemed to be the case for one such animal who’d been rescued in Thailand. Yes, after Me-Bai the elephant had spent three years in captivity, a memory from the past helped her readjust to life in the wild.
Me-Bai the elephant was born in captivity in Thailand, and she and her mother were used for entertainment in Asia. Sadly, they are just two of the thousands of these majestic animals who are abused in this way. And because of this, Me-Bai was only able to stay with her mom until she was three years old.
While the young elephant no longer required her mother’s milk at that age, calves in the wild can stay with their moms for up to 16 years. But Me-Bai’s keepers apparently decided that making money was more important than her family bonds.
So they took her away to be trained. To do so, they subjected Me-Bai to a practice known as “crushing.” This cruel method of taming elephants involves tying the animals up in small cages to “crush” their spirit and force them into compliancy.
After Me-Bai completed her training, her keeper sent her to a tourist camp to teach handlers how to ride elephants. She then spent the next three years giving rides to travelers. However, the hard work soon took its toll, and she became incredibly weak and dispirited.
Finally, Me-Bai became so frail that she could no longer carry tourists, and her owner decided to retire her. They contacted the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, and the project agreed to take Me-Bai on as part of their “Pamper a Pachyderm” program.
The young elephant was incredibly nervous when she arrived at the sanctuary, so the park’s staff had to be patient to win her round. But they provided her with care and attention, and eventually she realized that she was finally safe.
Then, just as Me-Bai was beginning to find her feet at her new home, something incredible happened: the staff at the Elephant Nature Park managed to track down her mother. And, remarkably, she wasn’t far from Chiang Mai.
The 30-year-old elephant, named Mae Yui, had also been working in the tourist industry, and rescuers found her at a trekking camp where people would ride on her. The Elephant Nature Park’s staff decided that they couldn’t let her continue this way, so they reached out to her owners.
That’s when the park’s co-founder, Sangduen Chailert, known simply as “Lek,” invited Mae Yui’s keeper to come visit. She explained to him the work that the project did for elephants, and she offered to help him give his elephants a new life.
“[We] offered to help them to set up a pamper program for their elephants and to take the elephants out of the trekking camps and to bring them home,” Lek said in a statement. “The owner was interested, and he took time to learn of our method.” And, amazingly, he agreed to free Me-Bai’s mom.
So in April 2015 Me-Bai and a team of volunteers set out on the long trek to see Mae Yui. They were heading to Karen village, more than three day’s travel away. When they got there, though, the two elephants would begin a new life together.
Finally, after three long years apart, Me-Bai and Mae Yui were reunited. The scene that followed was utterly heartwarming. The mother and daughter appeared to recognize one another right away and tentatively felt each other with their trunks.
“When Mae Yui and Me-Bai met, it seemed both of them were shocked,” Lek wrote on Facebook following the reunion. “They held quiet, silent, for half an hour. We all [stood] there silent with them… to see what [would] happen. And then they began to talk.”
The pair seemed to begin making up for lost time. Indeed, Me-Bai would follow her mother’s every move, and she started to learn a lot about what it meant to be an elephant. For example, the youngster began to identify food in the jungle.
This was good news for the staff at the Elephant Nature Park. Because, one day, they hoped to return the pair to the wild where they belonged. But first the mother and daughter would have to learn how to fend for themselves.
For the moment, though, the two elephants were still getting used to each other’s company. And it was having a positive effect on both of them. “The behavior of both has changed so much,” read a statement on the Elephant Nature Park website. “Their movements [are] relaxed and easy, their ears flapping happy, their eyes calm and gentle.”
In the evenings, Me-Bai and Mae Yui were free to roam the jungle. In order to keep track of them, their keepers placed a bell around the mother’s neck. However, little Me-Bai soon learned how to silence or remove it.
“They enjoy their freedom life very much now, and we can see so clear the deep bond between them,” an Elephant Nature Park spokesperson said. “The peaceful life and nature’s freedom is the best therapy to heal them. This is the case for all captive elephants.”
Me-Bai and Mae Yui were later released into the wild. And knowing that they were looking out for one another was no doubt a great comfort to all those who had cared for them. Now, no matter what life throws at them, they’ll always have each other.