Among the elephants / by Marek Charytonowicz

Elephants come slowly with their mahouts nearby, curious and a bit irritated with the awaiting crowd. There’s almost thirty of us, five volunteers and a large group of guests - employees of a Cambodian travel agency that came to experience what they’re selling. 

Initially two, Bob and Onion, male and female, separately from the others as they don’t get on well. Then in the second batch of another four girls. Those two groups don’t get on with each other. Different tempers and past experiences made them stick to each other and not tolerate the others. It’s a bit like a rehabilitation camp where each participant bears heavy scars of his or hers past. 

Everything is covered in mud of rich red color, including elephants that use it as a protection from the heat and mosquitos. They wash it off every day and put back a fresh layer. The ones that grew up working, need to be washed as they never had a chance to learn that skill from their parents. They also tend to make puppy sounds instead of deep trumpeting as again - that’s something you learn in an elephant herd. 

I’ve never realized that there’s so much that an elephant looses when it’s taken out of the jungle and spends his life working between humans. The natural instincts are gone - that includes communication, confidence, protecting itself, finding food, etc. All this is done by volunteers here until the rescued elephant learns how to be an elephant again. 

Most of them bear scars of human treatment, scars on the skin, old wounds, lost sight in one eye, exposed spine from carrying heavy weights. It’s sad once you understand that what you’re looking at is caused by our species and that’s not the way normal elephant should look like. 

It’s even more sad when you see how gentle they are, walking carefully around you, purring like giant cats, looking at you with a bit of regained trust in their eyes when you put you hand on their wrinkled skin in the color of red soil. They have their moods, sometimes they extra shy and not feeling like talking to anyone, sometimes they purr, squeak and trumpet between each other and playfully spray some water on us pretending they’re drinking.