Momentum is building since our humble mobile elephant clinic program started this past August. Just this year, the Surin elephant kingdom had no full time elephant vet, with a vet coming from the Livestock
Department 70 km away 3 days a week, and now we have two full time vets and a hospital is on the way..the zoological parks organization has committed over US$1 million to build an elephant hospital in the near future! Last week, experts from across the country gathered to provide their recommendations given their various experiences at their own elephant hospitals. It was so inspiring to see institutions coming together to share their knowledge, failures and successes in an open way so that this new hospital can be as great as possible!
I spent the rest of week watching how the team operates, their medical knowledge is excellent, but they are still reporting procedures and records on paper taking up valuable time. Vets International has graciously received sponsorship from Vetter software to have cloud-based database that can keep medical records and inventory for our pachyderm patients. We had a training session with them who were 15 hours behind in California, and our team was happy to know that the software can have a Thai option! Now, our team can avoid the tedious process of writing individual paper reports for each elephant and placing orders for medical supplies on paper, and can directly enter their medical data on their new laptops in the field as well as place orders for supplies! What I most love about our Thai partners is their flexibility and willingness to adapt and embrace new ideas and modern advances. I am proud to say their foundational knowledge and medical skills are excellent, but I would like to ensure they are spending as much time as possible exercising this knowledge, and less time sitting in the office doing paperwork (the universal complaint of doctors and vets)!
One of the concerns our team has is the lack of trust from the community, and skepticm in modern medicine. The previous vet had worked here for 40 years and was not always up to date with modern advances, so some of the approaches and medications used are foreign to some members of the community, and therefore not excepted. Our priority now is to build trust and rapport with all members of the community so we can proceed forward adopting better welfare practices, but that’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to take time and patience. We realize that we need to bring in different areas of expertise if we really want to help the elephants. We need to better understand what the values and priorities of this community are, for they are a tribe indigenous to this area. Mr. Phassakorn, the director of the elephant program here in Surin is meeting with social scientists who have done work here in the past to learn what they know, and determine what recommendations they have. Prior to my arrival to Thailand I attended the Summit conference in Los Angeles and met Susan Olesek who is an expert in utilizing the enneagram in prison systems across the US to understand why prisoners made the choices they made.The enneagram is a model of the human psyche to understand one’s core motivation, emotional intelligence, strengths, and fears. I thought perhaps we can implement this tool here with the appropriate experts and understand what individuals in the community are thinking, and to better understand why they manage their elephants the way they do here. Our team is looking into it and evaluating possibilities.
The next day our team went to visit the female that was attacked by the bull elephant that I mentioned in my previous blog. She was limping a little and receiving phenylbutazone, a NSAID to help with pain and inflammation. She was also receiving an anti-inflammatory tincture topically on her wounds that have been healing nicely. A couple days later we went back and were happy to see her no longer lame. Hopefully another modern medicine success story that can be spread in the community.
I gave tremendous praise to our team, reminding them that we are making extraordinary progress in a short period of time, and we must be patient and focus on the victories and not get bogged down by the challenges. I also suggested they spend time not only with the mahouts and elephants, but with the mahouts wives and families, building relationships whenever possible.
One afternoon I took two of our generous patrons to visit a family that owns a couple elephants, we spent the afternoon having fun bathing their elephants as well as learning how to make bamboo sticky rice. This is not only beneficial to us providing us with memories that will last a lifetime…but I believe it’s also building relationships that show we really do care about their families and not just the elephants.
Bamboo sticky rice is fascinating dish. Here are instructions:
1. You need to soak glutinous rice in coconut milk for a couple hours.
2. Take a bamboo shoot, cut it to a foot-long and put the rice inside, you can take a banana leaf and shove it on either end to keep the rice in.
3. Place the bamboo shoots on coals for 30 minutes on each side.
4. Take a machete or large sharp knife and start shaving your way through the bark until you get a nice thin layer between your rice and the bark.
5. Now just peel the thin layer of bark and enjoy the delicious sticky rice inside! It’s also helpful to have a bowl of water with kefir lime to wash your hands afterwards!