See what it’s like to be one of our animals for a day
Hi, I am Wassana.
Learn more about the challenges I face.
Hi, I am Toby.
Learn about my life on and off the street
- Read More About Wassana
My name is Wassana, which means “fortune” in Thai. When I was younger, I was a victim of armed conflict and I stepped on a landmine in Myanmar. I was later sold to an owner in Thailand, and had been forced to carry tourists on my back, despite my broken foot. But before I go on with my story, let me give you some background.
I am an Asian elephant, an endangered species. Experts believe there are now fewer than 2,000 of us living wild in Thailand, where 95% of my population has died, and continues to die due to habitat loss. Illegal capture and trade for use in the tourism industry is also a huge problem. The industry thrives because foreign visitors will pay substantial amounts of money to ride us or watch us do tricks.
However, wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden. The brutal truth is that the taming process in Southeast Asia is ruthless, and is accomplished when we are very young. Wild elephants do not allow humans to ride on top of them. In order to tame a wild elephant, we are usually tormented as babies to completely break our spirit. This painful process is called Phajaan, or “the crush.” We are ripped away from our mothers at two years old and confined in small spaces, like cages or small holes in the ground, where we cannot move. Sometimes, we are paired with surrogate mothers who are forced to accept us. Some refuse to accept us or vice versa, requiring us to be tethered together using a rope or chain. We are beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp objects such as bull hooks and even knives, and starved and deprived of sleep for many days. Most of us are still abused even after being tamed, as the fear of retaliation is great. Many elephant camps continue to use bull hooks to control us. If the trainers are not constantly stabbing us with sharp objects, it’s the fear of being stabbed that motivates us to work. We are often overworked and trekking chairs used for rides are usually left on all day, causing us to have pressure sores on top of the already existing human-inflicted wounds. We are even forced to cart people around before our wounds are allowed to heal.
We require enrichment, close contact with other elephants, and the freedom to behave naturally, which we cannot have when we are forced to carry people around all day with a heavy load. At night, we are chained to stalls, or taken to the forest and chained to trees, where we are not able to communicate nor touch our elephant neighbors for fear we will fight or escape. We need gentle, short exercise per day with lots of touching and hugging our family members for our mental and physical well-being.
The problem these days is that most of us in Thailand are entertaining tourists, and that means more of us are being captured from our mothers, tortured, and sold off. Efforts by non-governmental and governmental organizations to protect us elephants are fragmented. We are a threatened species and BLES is working to save us. They welcome other elephant organizations to join us in their fight and are partnering with Vets International to help us get veterinary care, and treat my foot on a daily basis.
So please help us. Together, as a global community, you can give us a voice and make a difference.
- Read More About Toby
One day I was walking on the street when a car hit me. My family’s neighbors who owned a hardware store rescued me and took me to the vet where a cast was put on my broken leg. Eventually, I recovered from the fractured leg, but my neighbors lost interest in continuing to care for me. I was tied on a short lead to a tree in the backyard. Many times they forgot to give me food and I hardly ever had water available. Sometimes they would go away on vacation and leave me tied up with no food or water. I would howl and cry all day long until other neighbors started to feed me. Eventually I learned to jump in their yard when I needed food and that’s when the friendship began with my new family.
Many visitors will notice a great number of us dogs on the streets. Most of us are friendly and peaceful. We often survive by rummaging for food in garbage bins. Any kind of meat, even rodents and birds will suffice. A hungry dog will eat almost anything.
Surprisingly, 99% of us in Latin America are owned and have homes as our owners need us to protect their homes. What they do not know as that we need to be fed and cared for to keep them and us healthy. Sadly, most people do not allow us to get near them. Often they hurl sticks at us to chase us away or become increasingly abusive. We sustain human-inflicted wounds and we live with injuries. We are susceptible to many illnesses. We are often deemed too insignificant to receive medical treatment. It is common to see lifeless, desiccated bodies left to rot on the streets. A pressing fatal illness facing our population, as well as that of our human owners, is rabies. Fortunately, it is an issue that can be tackled. We get rabies from wild animal bites and scratches while hunting for food, or when we fight with each other. Signs of rabies infection include aggressive or uncoordinated behavior, hyperactivity, and biting. This further increases the risk of rabies in non-infected dogs, and worsens the situation like a vicious cycle. Sadly, most people who suddenly get worried about us do not address the root cause of this problem. A few years ago, the answer was to capture us and put us to sleep with strychnine, suffering a painful death. Several thousand of us were exterminated in this manner until this solution was ruled unlawful. In the situation in which we find ourselves, some people frequently trash the notion of caring for us, and we are considered worthless. Fortunately, some kind people are eager to develop a more humane and sustainable solution.
Vets International and the GAAP work together with governments and key stakeholders to find permanent and humane solutions to the challenges of street dog management. They are currently still working to find long-lasting solutions that fit our local community. They provide services to us such as physical exams, vaccination, sterilization, and humane education. In order to create sustainability, they need financial support for their supplies and to expand the veterinary clinic.
Please help them help us. Together, we can live in harmony.