Teaching Elephants to Paint in Thailand

David Rich writes for GoNOMAD about elephants in Thailand.
“On the first trek into the jungle we quickly learned the most repeated command is bai, which means “GO.” The jungle to an elephant is like a chocolate factory to a Willie Wonka kid; every jungle bit is luscious, edible and available. An elephant the size of Piajaub devours 200 kilos (440 lbs.) of fodder a day, an enormity of leaves, bananas and sugar cane. The Conservation Center’s fifty-elephant results are reams of elephant dung paper.

Making Elephant Dung Paper

Our next assignment was the joy of making paper. Fortunately, the near-National Basketball Association-sized dung had been bleached and washed before, up to our elbows, we re-molded it into 400 gram (one pound) balls. We remixed the pure fiber with water and jell, and swished it onto screens for drying into elegant papers tie-dyed into in a millennium of pastel hues.

The only downer was visiting the elephant hospital. About half the bulky gray patients had stepped on land mines littering the Thai/Myanmar border. The more unlucky half had become constipated. Land mine wounds eventually heal but a bowel-constricted elephant is often on the short list for the big tusk depository in the sky.

Elephants play so well together and with their mahouts that they become big gray dust bunnies. Our last duty at night, after trekking into the jungle, and first in the morning when retrieving our charges, was to bathe the elephants. For the elephants, bathing was pure relaxation and playtime. For mahouts-in-training it was dodging exuberant trunk showers and playing submarine, while attempting to avoid bobbing paper-wannabees.”