It took them nine hours and 20 kilometres of straight walking to finally reach freedom. When the two elephants finally did, locals and tourists cheered them on, as they arrived at Samui Elephant Haven, an ethical sanctuary in Southern Thailand.
50-year-old Sri Nuan and 30-year-old Somboon, who is due to give birth in four months, were rescued from their life in the tourism industry. They lived in chains, were trained using bullhooks and had to carry heavy tourists on a regular basis.
Their long walk saw many supporters join in, while local food stalls donated fruits to the elephants to keep them going.
Conservationist Lek Chailert, who is also the founder of Save Elephant Foundation which rescued the elephants, led the animals on their walk to freedom. “It was beautiful to see so many local people, tourists and expats joining us on the walk to their new home. It gave me hope to see the love expressed for the elephants. We need people to support projects such as Samui Elephant Haven so we can rescue more elephants and give them the life they deserve” said Lek.
At their arrival, Somboon was instantly reunited with her seven-year-old calf, Nong Pech, who also resides at the sanctuary.
Susan Field, a supporter who joined the elephants on their walk and witnessed the special moment said, “Nothing can quite compare with the compelling moment when mum and daughter were reunited at 3 am today after the baby had been stolen from her when she was just two years old. It’s been five years since she saw her mum, but there was no mistaking the instant recognition and sheer joy that both elephants demonstrated during their touching reunion.”
The Foundation has saved over 200 elephants to date. Despite these efforts however, elephant tourism remains a brutal industry that thrives throughout the region.
5,000 elephants currently live in Thailand of which 4,000 are in captivity, mostly working in tourism. Just last week, Moving Animals launched a campaign to save Dumbo, a baby elephant who was performing daily at Phuket Zoo. One week after his legs snapped from exhaustion, Dumbo died.