Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Dumbo Drop by Chuck Baclagon

September 15, 2009

No, I don’t mean what Um has to clean up, but the process of transporting elephants across provincial borders. An operation as complicated as the movie Operation Dumbo Drop.

As required by Thai law and provincial administration regulations, Elephants cannot walk across provincial borders, they can only be transported by trucks, with prior permissions of the livestock department.

So, early this morning after their usual enormous breakfast; with the help of the mahouts, our veterinarian and elephant transport experts, our great friends delicately clambered onto the back of a truck specially designed for them and were driven across the borders which an elephant can hardly tell, but let us not get into the irony of this bureaucratic joke.

Elephants were used by the early European explorers for their expeditions into Southeast Asia. In the nineteenth century Thailand had over 100,000 elephants in captivity, and the vast majority of them were involved in transporting goods and people as well as servings as beasts of burden for European expeditions according to Richard Lair, an authority on elephants in Siam.

Despite their awkward looks, elephants are astonishingly adept at going up and down steep hills and their broad feet make for easy passage through swamps and muddy grounds. Prior to the construction of the Siamese Railroad, the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north was normally done half way by boat and half way by elephants.

Following them in a car, I noticed that the elephants occasionally stuck their trunk out and up to feel the breeze and smell the air but mostly they continued in the truck, doing what they like doing best, eating.

The mahouts, like cowboys of the west continued to sit atop the elephants in the trucks. Quite a sight I must say, but no one, absolutely no one along the way, paid any attention to our strange entourage.

Elephants, revered and loved, are also taken for granted by the people of Thailand, a quick wai followed by either an offering of fruit if available and/or small change is given to the mahout for the elephant’s upkeep. Elephants on a truck, get a small honk of acknowledgment from motorists, if at all.

At our next destination, I watched awe-struck as the elephants carefully backed out of the truck, onto a platform and back onto the ground following instructions from their mahouts.

Elephants are exceedingly intelligent animals and our elephants, trained by their mahouts, can comprehend upto 40 voice commands. Which btw, is way more than, Shane,  my son, is willing to respond to.  Hehe.!

We may have saved a couple of hours of walking by today’s truck-transit, but time is running out for our leaders to begin to take action on climate change, to protect our forests, our elephants, our children our future.

Throughout this journey, we have been collecting petition to Obama with great hope. But , I am told by my colleagues in the US and Belgium, that the politicians don’t care, the UNFCCC talks are a mess and the leaders are playing our footsie with our future.

I am breaking away from the caravan today for a couple of days and go back to Bangkok to meet with our partners and allies and find ways of influencing Obama before the UN General Assembly meeting.

If only Obama could come down and look deep into the soulful and gorgeous eye of Kachapat, our lover boy, and he will understand more than ever the need for urgent climate action.


Shailendra Yashwant

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