Meet Mae Dok, a 60-years-old soulful and sociable elephant.
She has spent her whole life in a small town in Thailand, being used as an attraction for tourists. All she ever did was stand beside a small bridge, begging for treats from tourists.
However, that is the life she can now “put behind her,” according to Emily McWilliam, co-founder and manager of Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “Never to stand and beg for sweets under the bridge in the touristic village again,” McWilliam said.
Mae Dok was bathing in a small stream last week when something that would change her entire life happened.
She was being photographed by the rescuers from BEES—it was her last day in the village. In the picture, you can find a chain draped over her back, as though a symbol for her to leave her old, captivated life behind her.
“She was chained on a long chain in an overgrown farm on the edge of her home village, munching on grasses and splashing with mud,” BEES wrote. “Her family came to visit her throughout the day to say goodbye and it was so touching to see how affected members of the family were by Mae Dok’s presence over the years and how lovingly they said goodbye and gave her banana offerings … They told us many beautiful stories and spoke of how sweet Mae Dok is.”
Then, after being set free, she was loaded onto a truck.
However, Mae Dok had never been out of that small village before.
“We were not sure if she would get on the truck,” BEES wrote. “Mae Dok hesitated and stood at the back of the truck for some time vocalizing and reluctant to lift her feet.”
Some people who used to take care of her even encouraged her to go.
“Mae Dok eventually lifted her legs up onto the truck and slowly edged forward,” BEES wrote.
A member of the rescue team also held the tip of her trunk to communicate that everything was fine when the truck was getting ready to pull away.
The rescuers got to know her better as the journey continued. They had heard stories from the villagers that she loved to chat, and it’s definitely true!
“She likes to chirp and grumble even with no other elephants around,” BEES wrote. “She is a very talkative elephant.”
Mae Dok finally stepped out onto the fresh grass after the seven- hour drive.
“She stepped down off the truck a little wobbly, her legs were quite stiff. The chain was removed and Mae Dok vocalized with low grumbles as she made her way down to the grass field,” BEES wrote. “We gave her a spray-down with the hose. We then let her explore and followed her lead, allowing her space to take in her new home.”
Mae Dok got very excited when she found another rescued elephant. However, the other elephant was quite taken aback as well!
“Mae Dok was very very interested but hesitant to step forward. Thong Dee was very anxious and hesitant also,” BEES wrote. “Thong Dee flared her ears and … moved quickly past Mae Dok at a distance. Mae Dok still directing her trunk towards Thong Dee made deep vocalizations. Thong Dee did stop momentarily and looked back at Mae Dok with her ears and eyes wide open and then continued on.”
Although making friends isn’t very easy, Mae Dok didn’t stop exploring. While walking, she stopped for a nap and saw another elephant in the distance. He was Mae Kam.
This time, something clocked.
“Mae Kam approached slowly … We didn’t hear any sounds from Mae Kam to begin with, it appeared she was a bit nervous and seemed to want to get past, but as Mae Dok wouldn’t move, she retreated,” BEES wrote. “She then stopped and turned back again as if to realize, ‘Hang on, I need to go that way for my afternoon treats.'”
Mae Kam didn’t seem to be very sure about what to do with this new elephant, However, Mae Dok knew that the best thing to do was talk.
“Mae Dok, still vocalizing and sniffing towards her, decided to take the next move,” BEES wrote. “She took a large step forward and reached out to Mae Kam. Then the most incredible, magical, unexpected display took place.”
Then, the next moment, the pair started resting their heads on each other, as though they were long- lost friends!
“Mae Dok then followed Mae Kam back to her night enclosure,” BEES wrote. “The mahouts said they both talked a lot in the night, they barely got any sleep … They have been vocalizing and chatty since.”
Now, Mae Dok and Mae Kam are inseparable!
Mae Kam also showed her favourite bathing spot to her new friend.
“It has been magical,” the sanctuary wrote. “It’s hard to put into words how happy we feel for Mae Dok. Welcome home, girl.”
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