‘Bring the Elephant Home’
Last year, the Chiang Mai Mail published an article by a
Dutch conservationist and activist, Antoinette van de Water, who is working
to restore the natural forest habitat of the sadly diminished number of wild
elephants in Thailand, in order to conserve and protect these amazing
van de Water with the Terre des Femmes 2009 award.
Antoinette is the founder and driving force behind the ‘Bring the Elephant
Home’ foundation, which was formed to create a better future for Thai
elephants. Her passion and concern for the giant pachyderms originated
during her time spent volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, and resulted
in her eventual move to Thailand and her commitment to removing elephants
from the harsh streets of tourist towns and re-establishing them in their
Most street elephants come from Isaan, where most of the forest areas have
been lost due to cultivation. No food, no habitation, and no money forces
traditional elephant families to find income elsewhere in cities like
Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Despite media reports of a change in the law which allowed mahouts to bring
their elephants into the cities, the heartbreaking sight of the huge beasts
tramping along city streets as a tourist attraction is still common.
More heartbreaking still, here in Chiang Mai, are the baby elephants which
are dragged around the bars in the night market area, with their mahouts
encouraging tourists to buy tiny bags of food and to feed the unhappy
beasts. It’s simple…elephants do not belong in cities. The hard road
surfaces are detrimental to their feet, the closed-in feel of city streets
are threatening to a species which needs the wide open spaces of fields and
forest to thrive, and the right kind of food to ensure the elephants’
well-being and health is just not available in towns.
Street elephants will only thrive when they are re-introduced into natural
surroundings such as that provided by the Elephant Nature Park or
Antoinette’s Elephant Island project, begun at a site adjacent to a
traditional Isaan mahout village, where the needs of the mahouts as well as
the elephants themselves are being considered.
Antoinette’s pilot project is one of community development to help people
and elephants co-exist together, and aims to create more food and a natural
environment for the elephants in the village. There are also plans to
generate income for elephant families (e.g. a mahout home stay project and
fertiliser or paper manufacture from elephant dung), in order to provide a
financial alternative to begging, which will allow the elephants to stay on
their home ground in the future.
Last week, in Bangkok, a book launch was held at the Foreign Correspondents’
Club of Thailand on behalf of the ‘Bring the Elephant Home’ foundation
…finally, Antoinette’s ‘The Great Elephant Escape’ has been translated from
the original Dutch and has been published!
The book describes the liberation of two elephants and their journey with
Antoinette and her Thai team to the Elephant Nature Park. That journey
turned out to be a breathtaking adventure through the world of flirtatious
elephant traders, poor villagers, well-wishing monks and angry animal rights
advocates, towards Elephant Haven on the far horizon, and includes
photographs by Liesbeth Sluiter, a journalist and photographer with a keen
interest in environmental issues.
‘The Great Elephant Escape’ will be reviewed, hopefully, in next week’s
Chiang Mai Mail, together with an interview with the author.
At the beginning of this year, in recognition of her work, Antoinette was
presented with the Terre des Femmes 2009 award for her ‘Trees for Elephants’
project. This annual award is given by the Yves Rocher Foundation to women
who are working with inspiring environmental projects. With the award came
the very welcome sum of 5,000 euros, which will be used to plant more trees
in Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary to create a diverse habitat for the 174
elephants to whom the sanctuary is home.
Statins - do they help or do they harm?
For some years now, statins have been hailed as a new wonder
drug which lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, thus reducing the likelihood
of fatty deposits in the bloodstream causing heart attacks and strokes.
Two new studies, however, may tell a different and alarming tale,
challenging the convention that lowering cholesterol levels is always
Given that a number of women readers of this column may be troubled by
high blood pressure, and may have been prescribed statins as a result,
it might be a good idea to occasionally follow up this issue with a
quick Google search!
The research, recently published in the respected journal Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, would seem to indicate that too
low a level of cholesterol may affect intelligence, cause depression,
poor memory and nightmares, and even raise the risk of suicide. The
studies’ results add to an increasing volume of evidence that low
cholesterol may be as dangerous to health as the high readings against
which statins are intended to protect.
Cholesterol is also produced in the human brain, and is essential to the
release of neurotransmitters, which carry messages from cell to cell.
One study, carried out at Iowa State University, found that statins, by
lowering cholesterol levels in brain cells, disrupted the release of
neurotransmitters, causing reduced intelligence and poor memory.
The results from the Iowa State study reinforced another new study,
carried out at the Geisinger Research Institute, involving 4,500 Vietnam
War veterans over a period of 15 years. The men were separated into two
groups, one with a combination of low cholesterol and depression; the
other with depression but normal cholesterol levels. The recently
released results indicate that men with a combination of depression and
low cholesterol readings are 7 times more likely to die prematurely from
non- natural causes than men who suffer depression alone.
Scientists at the institute believe that low blood cholesterol may be
linked to an insufficient supply of serotonin, the brain’s ‘feel good’
chemical. A low serotonin level is believed to cause depression, anger,
poor sleep patterns and other psychological problems which could
possibly result in suicide.
Gender Justice and Women’s Human Rights seminar offers challenging ideas
An interesting report, first aired in The Nation coincidental
with International Women’s Day, examines how the Thai legal system seem
to still be slanted away from women’s rights in the broadest, most
At a recent seminar entitled, ‘Gender Justice & Women’s Human Rights’,
an eminent speaker from the National Counter-Corruption Commission,
Professor Wicha Mahakhun, stated that, “The exploitation of women’s
bodies through human trafficking is one of the most serious issues the
world faces today.”
Prof. Wicha went on to note that the Thai justice system is
disadvantageous to women, and that, in his opinion, cases involving
women should be considered on an individual basis, with contributing
causes such as poverty, access to information and inequality being taken
into consideration. He also observed that sexist attitudes still prevail
on the legal access front, with female officers being relegated to
secretarial positions under their male equivalents, and recruitment
being influenced by women’s attractiveness or lack of it.
The glass ceiling is being kept intact, claims Prof.Wicha, by
unconsciously discriminatory gender-based attitudes by those in
authority - for example, the perception that certain types of work are
too ‘tough’ for women to undertake.
This, the 11th annual seminar in the series, was jointly organised by
the Foundation of Women, Law and Rural Development (FORWARD), Chiang Mai
University’s Women’s Studies Centre, Rabibhadanasak Judicial Research
Institute, the Thailand Criminal Law Institute, the Office of the
Attorney General, and sponsored by Norwegian Association of Women
Jurists/NORAD/FOKUS. Its aim was to inform nationwide members of the
judiciary system of the views of feminists concerning the Thai legal
FORWARDS’s president, Assoc. Prof. Virada Somsawasdi, a law professor
who founded the first Women’s Studies Centre in Thailand in1986, invited
Thai judges and justice workers to question whether relevant laws
perpetuate or eliminate gender bias; whether the state is really neutral
in issuing laws, or whether so-called ‘fair judgements’ are based on a
male-dominated thinking process.
Virada is also requesting the launch of a Gender Justice Network, and a
national award to honour those who are fighting for women’s rights.
Virada also pointed out that Sithisakdi Vanachakij, chairman of the
Justice of Appeal Court of Law had noted that the 2007 Domestic Violence
Act, although introduced with the best of intentions, had numerous
She also stated that there are far too few female investigators, and
that women, of course, understand the sensitivity of these issues to the
women and children involved. In many cases, the perpetrators, rather
than the victims, are gaining advantages from the new law.
According to Assistant Prof. Suchada Taweesit of Mahidol University’s
Population and Social Research Institute, the Human Trafficking Act was
written with the belief that prostitution was undertaken by women solely
as a way out of poverty. The free will of any woman’s choice, and the
reality that the majority of women who entered the trade were victims,
either of circumstance or of illegal coercion, was perhaps not
Shalardchai Ramitanond, of Chiang Mai University’s Women Studies Centre,
considered that, “In order to understand unprecedented events in modern
Thai society, we cannot stick to old ways of thinking - new paradigms
and analytical tools are needed. For the environment, for example, there
is sustainability theory, while in development there are several
alternative theories. For the legal system, however, a new paradigm has
yet to be considered.”
Judge Suntariya Muanpawong, of the Judicial Training Institute,
supported her point, replying that, “A new paradigm is vital because
numerous limitations exist in the system. For instance, a rigid
hierarchy of seniority hinders the open-forum development of fresh
ideas, and in many cases judges are biased, not because of corruption
but because they lack a ‘gender-equality lens.
“There is also the problem that many people still misinterpret the
feminist viewpoint as promoting privileges for women. In some countries,
law students are given time in jail cells to get first-hand experience
of the justice system’s workings. Perhaps role-play and case studies as
offered in workshops would be helpful tools in understanding gender