A little bit of Lek

February 5, 2016



Thailand- the story of the past, present and future of the Asian elephant, a new age way of 
saving primary rainforest and a small gal named Lek.
We have just left 
her Elephant Nature Park- where we were working with the elephants and 
this wonderful woman (height 4'9) named Lek- which coincidentally means 
"small one". Her life-quest is to provide a sanctuary for elephants to 
live in a peaceful natural environment, teach the locals how to live in 
harmony with elephants and provide Vet care for eles around the country 
that otherwise would go untreated,  the name for her EleAid is the 
"Jumbo Express". 

Sitting on the bamboo porch overlooking a family of muddy red elephants 
grazing on long lush grass, a luminous rainbow perfectly arched above 
and the smell of lemongrass matched with ginger leaking from the 
cooking hut,  I was reminded of that quote by Mother Teresa; "You can 
do no great things, only small things with great love." and thought in 
Lek's situation it should be changed to "You can do great things, even 
if you are small, if you have great love."

"Vanessa, you ready?" a thick Thai accent called. "Your stomach feel 
better?" Lek was already in the back of the truck loaded down with 
bananas, baskets and strange bags filled with dry fish and sticky rice 
and something gray sliced up, I took that for our lunch. 
I nodded, not knowing if I felt better or not- but the waves of nausea 
hadn't broke for at least an hour. I thought I was ready- anyhow it was 
just a little trek 2 and a half hours in thick humidity and tropical 
heat to a remote village in the high jungle mountains, bumpy car rides 
and rafting rapids for another 4 hours, what could be a better cure for 
a small bout of food poisoning? But the strong smell of overripe 
bananas was enough to get a rerun of my last night's loo adventure.
So here go's the Jumbo express- and of course it started out on the 
worst muddy washed out roads, Lek and I bouncing around with a 
truckload of bananas in the back, splashed by mud and holding on for 
dear life to not get dumped out. The ride was only complicated by my 
ever rumbling stomach which was still little unhappy from last night's 
green (perhaps too green?) papaya salad and the looming black clouds in 
the distance. We finally reached the river, sans any serious damage or 
vomiting, and the view was magical! The put in for the rafts was a tiny 
thatch village split in two by the chocolate brown river and a swinging 
bridge. Several small boys were demonstrating their diving skills from 
it- double back flips and all! If I wasn't feeling so off- i would have 
loved to launch off that bridge into the tempting cool water- but we 
had work to do. No; we didn't have the luxury of heading downstream in 
a comfy water-tight rubber raft- instead it was time to break out the 
bamboo and make one!
Hmmm- thnak goodness we had a few expert hands- my raft building skills 
are not that well honed....
We finally headed down the churning chocolate river on our newly built 
rafts out of bamboo (and nothing else!) to raft 1 1/2 hrs down the 
river, crossing class 2 and 3 rapids on a bamboo raft! @#$@# (learned 
right and left in Thai quite well- as we had to push with bamboo rods 
off the rocks- Si is left, Kwa is right) to this tiny village on stilts 
deep in the jungle. A couple of Mahouts (the name of the an elephant 
wrangler) brought down three ele's to meet us for de-worming and to 
treat an infected absess. These ele's are pushed to work very hard 
here- and beat with hooks and chains- obedience by submission and fear 
is the OLD thai way- but Lek is the new  "elephant" whisperer; she is 
trying to teach people that you can work together by LOVE- and she has 
proved this by buying 30 beaten and abused elephants and taught them to 
trust again; purely by love, not force-- and her creatures are just 
that, giving her love back....So these Mahouts brought down their 
ele's- and all three elephants have killed people this year; because 
they are beaten and scared and lash out. I cold see it in their eyes; 
so different from Lek's elephants. These ones were scared and angry- 
but we whispered soothing tones and got ready to operate from a 
platform. Lek distracted the hurt one with bananas from below as I 
filled the syringes, while the vet jumped on his head to open the 
absess. It went perfectly smoothly- and the vet gave all the extra meds 
to the Mahout... We filled bananas with 3 inch long pills and fed them 
to the ele's to
the delight of the Mahouts. These creatures make their families living- 
and although they may not know how to treat them, they are
eternally grateful for Lek and her Jumbo Express. It started raining 
violently as we pushed off on our bamboo rafts from the village- and it 
was getting late and we had 3 more hours down the river, but the full 
moon was rising, making the river seem like silver snake winding 
through the greenery. A little scary thinking we were going to still be
on the river after dark; but the moon was full and bright, and everyone 
was happy from a long good days work. Darkness set in as we moved down 
the river, dodging rocks, led by the light of the moon and the 
sparkling shoreline filled with fireflies.
A most beautiful moment in my life, spent with a women who 
has dedicated her life and love to something she believes in.

But Leks work doesn't end with hands on work with the elephants- in 
fact that is just the beginning. She took us down the red dirt road- 
leading a pack of 15 eles on a daily walk to the jungle, where each 
tree was firmly tied in a saffron bow. She reached into her woven bag 
and handed Tristan and I several long orange scarves, the robes of 
Buddist monks torn into strips. Lek's idea of saving individual trees 
using local Buddhist beliefs and karma, for the locals won't cut down 
these tied trees fearing insults to jungle spirits that have been 
blessed now by the monks sacred robes. I secured my last ribbon around 
a small sapling, looking around at a forest of hallowed trees, 10,000 
trees to be exact....(there most be a lot of naked monks running around 
somewhere I thought smiling.) I felt a bit blessed myself- to be in 
this moment, surrounded by elephants feeding on what would be their 
natural forage, and the air filled with a sense of Lek's will power to 
create a better world for them.  And Lek's determination is infectious, 
I felt a surge of purpose and strength as we rounded up the eles and 
headed back to camp and the morning ele feed of 3 tons of fruits and 
veg. There is hope, and we can do something about the future of these 
animals, and here we were, proving it!
Lek's dreams and realities are making a difference- 
The moral of the story- no matter how small you may be, and how large
your dreams may be- never give up- for the love of the dream is all
you need.

From a fellow elephant lover- 

Vanessa Garnick

The elephant, Thailand's official national and royal symbol, holds a 
place of great prestige and reverence in Thai society. But the 
pressures of Thailand's rapidly modernizing nation and developing 
economy have put the elephant in grave danger. Some estimates claim 
Thailand's elephant population has fallen from almost 300,000 one 
hundred years ago to less than 5,000 today. And over half that 
population is DOMESTICATED eles -(only by human force, nothing changes 
genetically in the ele if they are required to work for humans). We 
need to protect the elephant habitat and help BOTH the wild and 
domesticated elephants of Thailand, if that majestic creature is to 
roam the jungles and not just be a memory or mythical art piece in the 


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About Wildernessa

I grew up in Wyoming, married a South African and moved to Panama. As a guide and a writer I have traveled the world...now with 2 little boys in tow...


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