We still had another early day of data surveying to get under our belt, and Sunday was that day with alarm clocks sounding off from 04:30.
After some strong coffee and toast, at we set off at 06:00 into the dark once more with our headlamps, data sheets, permanent markers, thermometers, stopwatches, cameras and packed lunches.
We met the elephants in the cooling mist at the top of a hilly field around 07:15. We had some time to kill before our surveys was to start at 08:00, so we just enjoyed watching them move around and socialise with each other. We also heard the whine of mopeds and pickup trucks getting farmers to their daily working in the rice paddys, all of them slowing down to get a glimpse of the magnificent beasts.
Not long after starting our work, Dodo, who had Anna surveying him for the morning, was standing over by a bamboo gate. His mahout had closed it to allow all the traffic get by earlier on, but now Dodo seemed keen to be out, gently using his trunk to touch various things on the other side, like some bushes and one of the mahouts mopeds. But when Dodo knocked a moped over with just a tickle of his trunk, the message was heard and he, Anna and his mahout were off, not to be seen until lunch time.
Boon Rott, who didn’t seem to be in the the mood for socialising, kept himself busy with Henning in the top corner of the field foraging away. Getting as close as Henning would allow, sniffing his boots and the breeze.
Down in the bottom corner the rest of us watched Too Meh, Mae Doom and Gen Thong, as they foraged in the grass and bushes for tasty things to eat. The point of which is to see how many different types of plant they like to consume, and make a database. This all goes toward evidence that shows that elephants in captivity need a varied diet, and not just a few different types of leaves and bananas. The database currently shows over 200 different plants.
As we were done with our work by midday, we all stole an afternoon to ourselves to enjoy. Between us we wove scarfs, weaved baskets, sewed up worn-out dungarees and had every muscle in the human body pummelled, flattened, elbowed and squeezed by a local man, who does a mean Thai massage.
All good things come to an end, and Monday was our last chance to survey the herd. With a far more agreeable observation start time today of 10:00, we had a leisurely breakfast and set off on our way.
Not long into our survey, a tractor made its way along a track, smoothing it over after the rain had churned it up a couple of days ago. The sound of clanking metal and the low rumbling of the diesel engine caused Mae Doom, Too Meh, Boon Rott and Gen Thong to act skittish. Mae Doom started trumpeting, the sound was incredible and filled the valley to the brim. The three of them made their way to the river at the bottom of the hill, where they spent the next couple of hours mud bathing next to the water. We could hear their communication using a deep guttural rumbling sound. Gen Thong was looking restless, and keen to play, but had to content himself with his own company, and join in the foraging.
We finished up our final day surveying sitting there watching them. It seemed to be the hottest day of the whole expedition.
Alex collated all our data into a presentation showing us what all our hard work has been about. We then had our final evening meal together, followed by a lovely surprise. That evening ‘Loy Krathong’, or the festival of light, was happening. All the children in the village (and our very own Nick, who’s on first name terms with nearly everyone) had made floats to send down the river after dark. They were made from halved cucumbers, hollowed out, and adorned with banana leaf sails, held in place with bamboo skewers, then a finishing decoration of pretty flowers, candles and incense. The children then made their way down to the river, where, with the help of a few adults, they lit the candles and incense and let them float away into the night. We watched them from the rope bridge leading to out base, as they sailed underneath us, gently meandering down the river and out of sight.
Malika and I like to thank everyone who was involved making this whole expedition possible. Kerri for smoothly organising base and activities in the village, Talia and Alex for staying on top of the science. The amazing cooks who’ve kept us happy with the most delicious Thai cooking. Our delightful homestay hosts who welcomed us in their homes and all the villagers of Naklang who have been incredibly warm to throughout. The mahouts, who spend their time, day in, day out, with the elephants, keeping them out of harm’s way and us safe during our surveys. And last but not least our great thanks go out to this year’s expeditioners for putting time and sweat and money into a unique project that wouldn’t happen without people like you. We both hope that you’ve enjoyed your time here with the elephants as much as we did.
Safe travels back home or enjoy your onwards travelling. We hope to see some of you again some time somewhere on this beautiful planet earth.
Anthony & Malika