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St. Valentine’s Day

A mountain sanctuary for elephants, as Nature intended

 

St. Valentine’s Day

Mike and Rose Dean celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary
at the Expats’ Club, pictured with Chris Hedges and Jim Cox.

Koi and Arnaud, together with Rudy, (centre), celebrating at Nasi-JumPru.

Eric Nagtegaal and Mira Meeuwis decided
on Mi Casa Restaurant to celebrate Valentine’s Night.

Nancy and Birney Boyd, happily and faithfully married for 34 years
chose M Cuisine for Valentine’s Night - they said they want another 34 at least!

Anja and Willy Winger celebrate Valentine’s Night at Da Mattia Restaurant.

Hagen Dirksen, Honorary German Consul (third from the right),
along with his wife Wanpen (fourth from the right), hosted a glamorous party
at the Saenkham Terrace Restaurant on Valentine’s Night.

Malcolm and Miew Logan celebrate their wedding at the House of Palm,
Doi Saket, on Valentine’s Day. The Chiang Mai Mail would like to congratulate them and wish them all the very best for the future.

Every February 14, across the world, cards, gifts, flowers and celebrations mark St. Valentine’s Day. Lovers choose this day to commit to each other in marriage, or in less formal but just as meaningful ways, and even long-established couples remember with warmth and affection the romantic moments of their lives together. However, how many of us stop to think how this day came about? We know that Valentine was a saint of the Christian Church; we believe, correctly, that the saint’s and his day’s true origins are lost in legend, but which legends? Here are several to choose from!
According to one legend, Valentine himself sent the first “Valentine’s” greeting. Whilst in prison, he supposedly fell in love with a young girl - perhaps his jailer’s daughter - who visited him regularly. Before his death, he reputedly wrote a letter to his beloved, and signed it “From your Valentine”, an expression which has survived to this day. Another legend places him as a Christian priest in 3rd century Rome at the time that the Roman Emperor Claudius outlawed marriage for young men in the hope that this would make them more committed soldiers. Valentine, realising the injustice of the Emperor’s decree, continued to perform marriages in secret, until he was discovered and condemned to death. A third legend tells that Valentine was executed for helping Christians escape from the beatings and torture they endured in Roman prisons.
Another question - why February 14? Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February as a commemoration of his death, which probably occurred around A.D. 270. Others claim that, as with so many other dated Christian festivals, the date was chosen in order to “Christianise” a pagan festival; that of Lupercalia, the purification rite signifying the official beginning of spring. Lupercalia was celebrated as a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and as such may have included rites of which the newly formed Christian Church definitely did not approve!
Whatever and whenever, in A.D. 498, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day, thus beginning the tradition which continues to this day. During the Middle Ages, it was believed in France and England that this date signified, for birds, the beginning of the mating season, thus reinforcing the tradition of romance! The oldest known Valentine still in existence is a poem written in the year 1415 by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife, whilst he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture after the Battle of Agincourt. The English King Henry V is reputed to have hired a writer to compose a Valentine message to Catherine of Valois.
As for the saint himself, in 1835 his remains, or what are believed to be his remains, were given by Pope Gregory XVI to an Irish priest, Father John Spratt, who had vastly impressed the pontiff with the fire and conviction of his preaching. The gift, still in its black and gold casket, can still be viewed on St. Valentine’s Day at the Catholic Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin.

David Biggs and Nitradee Noja celebrating at the Riverside Restaurant.

Vimonwan Engphaiboom and Sayam Suebsaeng
chose Buonissimo Italian Restaurant on the river to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Jamie Thompson and Napaporn Chuekaew picked
the Sofitel Riverside for their Valentine’s Night.

Supha and Terry Fardeau chose the WOW Bar
at the Shangri-La for Valentine’s Night.

Relaxing on Valentine’s Night at the Ginger & Kafe; Dermot Fox and Fiona Cianci.

Prem and Tom Salisbury, married for 37 years;
at the UN Irish Pub for their Valentine’s Night.
Prem’s grandfather is credited with introducing strawberries to Thailand!

Todd Kassap and Pia Suksabai enjoying Valentine’s Night at The Garden Bar.

US Consul General Michael K. Morrow and his wife Shannon about
to head out on their first Valentine’s Night in Chiang Mai.

At the Imperial Mae Ping, Joyce and Brad Hazlett celebrate
a special Valentine’s Night.

“Silk”, starring Keira Knightly, ‘Love knows no borders’.
Executive Producer Jonathan Debin and his beautiful wife Shaki chose
the Chedi Hotel for Valentine’s Night.

At the Centara Duantawan Hotel, love was all around with Henry and Heather Koo.

Guy and Suda Montfort help celebrate
Saisunee Nimkumpai’s birthday (centre) at the Pasta Cafe.

La Gritta at the Amari Rincome found Manassanan Khiewdee
and Randy Wilkins celebrating Valentine’s Night.

Valerie Hemberg and Ronald Rivat spending a romantic Valentine’s evening
by the pool at the D2 Hotel.

Neil and Leanne Allen decided on a candlelit dinner at the Holiday Inn
for a romantic Valentine’s Night.

Lena and Steen Boge decided on The House Restaurant
for a romantic Valentine’s Night.

 

A mountain sanctuary for elephants, as Nature intended

A little lady with a heart as big as her charges

Lynley Capon
Many tourists coming to Thailand have “visit an elephant camp” as a “must do” on their itinerary. Like me, at that point they will have had little idea of what methods were used to train the elephants to perform for the crowds’ entertainment. As uneducated outsiders, we think that in paying to see elephants play soccer, paint pictures and give rides we are helping them survive in an age when they are no longer valued for their work skills. Unfortunately in doing this, we are part of the problem of exploitation, not part of the solution for elephant conservation in Thailand.
Elephants are so much a part of Thailand’s image. Traditionally, they were beasts of burden as well as being revered as gods. They were the bearers of kings and the “tanks” for warfare, and were featured in works of art as well as becoming religious icons. One hundred years ago there were an estimated one hundred thousand elephants in Thailand. Over the past century they were used extensively in the logging industry. Logging operations, which effectively destroyed the elephants’ natural habitat, were declared illegal in 1989. At that time there were only 25,000 elephants left in Thailand.
Since then, as elephants have no real use anymore, their numbers have plummeted along with their health and wellbeing. It is not uncommon to see elephants “begging” with their mahouts in the night streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, although, in Bangkok at least, this practice is now illegal. When you consider that an elephant eats 10% of its own body weight in food each day, you can easily understand that food gathered through begging in the city is not going to be adequate to maintain good health. The elephant is forced to forage amongst the garbage, hardly a nutritious food source. Seeing the begging elephants moves me to tears and raises my ire exceedingly; it is so pitiable for such a magnificent beast.
In the far north of Thailand in a mountain sanctuary not far from Mae Taeng, there is a very small lady with a very big heart working to change the situation for elephants. Sangduen Chailert, commonly known as Lek, which means small in Thai, has devoted her life to saving elephants and re-educating people in matters of conservation. Hers is a fascinating story of courage and determination and one that needs to be heard loud and clear around the world.
As a child in a tribal village in the 1960s, Lek experienced elephants first hand. Her grandfather was a shaman, and was given an elephant as a gift for healing someone. That elephant, Goldie, was the beginning of her life-long journey with elephants. n 1992 she bought her first elephant and established the Elephant Nature Park in the hill country of Mae Taeng. Over the past fifteen years she has faced many challenges, among them having a contract taken out on her life, and having her favourite elephant poisoned by enemies of her work. These setbacks have not deterred her in the least, but made her more determined than ever to advance the cause of an endangered species.
It is mind-boggling to think that now in Thailand, the land which revered and worshipped elephants, there are only 5000 remaining. Half of those are in the wild and the other half are domesticated. Only the 2500 in the wild are recognised as an endangered species. The other 2500 are considered to be livestock or even just “vehicles”, and have no protection at all. It is these domesticated elephants that Lek is attempting to save. It seems incomprehensible to me that the government has not taken an initiative in preserving such a precious beast as the magnificent elephant but, as yet, it looks as though all depends on individuals like Lek.

Many people think that the elephants in “camps” are in favourable circumstances but little do they realise these elephants have been trained by the centuries-old process of the “crush”. Young elephants are forcibly taken from their mothers and placed in a small bamboo cage where they are beaten with sticks that have nails sticking out of them. The beatings continue until the elephant is subjugated, its spirit broken so that it does what it is told through fear, and will accept a rider. This training readies an elephant for the workforce - in the case of the elephant camps this means performing for tourists. When they are not performing, the elephants live in chains.
This is not the lifestyle for Lek’s elephants. They roam freely in a huge area of trees and grasses with a river to wallow in and all the food they need - elephants graze for about 18 hours a day! Breakfast includes a nutritious concoction with healing herbs as a boost to their regular diet. Volunteers from all over the world come and help in the park, serving the elephants by bathing and feeding them. To see the majestic beasts ranging freely in a herd is an awesome and moving sight, far different from what you see in the elephant camps. It is a sight I would like to see repeated many times throughout Thailand, supported by government funds.
Most of Lek’s 31 elephants have been “domesticated” by the crush method, and only those she has rescued as babies have the chance to be trained by more humane means. Amongst her elephants are those with tales of horrific abuse at the hands of their owners. Jokia was blinded by her owners as a punishment. Lilly was drugged with amphetamines so she could work around the clock. Malai Tong was maimed by a land mine. Meadow was a logging elephant whose back leg was broken by a log. She was put next to a bull elephant in must, the time they are most aggressive and ready to copulate. She was attacked by the bull and left with a broken back as well. BK is a bull elephant who was attacked by poachers for his tusks. The poachers used a chainsaw to saw off one of his tusks but were interrupted when someone caught them. BK has one tusk luckily, but on the side where the tusk was cruelly removed, he suffered a terrible infection and survived only through Lek’s care.
King Mai was a few days old when his mother roamed into a farmer’s corn field. She was shot, but somehow survived several days without food. Local villagers called Lek; she came at once and took him to her sanctuary. Once there, she hand reared him, but later he was sadly poisoned. He had become a great friend of a young elephant named Hope who has now become the promise of hope for other elephants. His training, by means of love and trust, is very different from the training methods used on the other beasts who were rescued from sad circumstances. His mahout rewards him with food for doing the right thing - if he follows a command word correctly, he receives the food. If he doesn’t, there is no punishment, just the withholding of the reward. Lek aims to show the fact that elephants don’t need to be treated cruelly to be taught how to cooperate.
Lek offers a free veterinary service for elephants in the far North of Thailand. If the elephants have no work, their mahouts abandon them and they cannot survive in the wild without care. It is a huge irony that elephants, a species which helped build the nation of Thailand over many hundreds of years, have been left to die out without so much as a ripple in government circles. Admittedly, there is a government sponsored camp in Lampang, also in the north of Thailand, where mahouts are trained in good elephant husbandry and taught to love and respect the elephants in their care. The bottom line however is that the survival of domestic elephants depends on their usefulness and their ability to make money. So again they are reduced to the role of entertainers.
Lek’s organisation has as its mission the following aims: to provide sanctuary for this endangered species, to restore the rainforest or at least prevent further destruction, to preserve the cultural heritage of elephants in Thailand, to educate people and to act independently of other pressure groups. She has taken on a huge task, on a scale of the mighty beasts whose cause she champions, and she deserves all the support and acclaim she can get.