A Week With Thong Dee The Elephant

A Week With Thong Dee The Elephant

by Tiffany Parker on

My second day at BEES Elephant Sanctuary and I wake up thinking I had just enough time to get ready before breakfast, when I arrived though I was the only one there.

I had been used to a pretty tight schedule with Journey to Freedom; each day had allotted time for work, rest, food, etc.  BEES, I could tell was going to be more relaxed.

I combed out the knots in my hair, neglected from the ride to Mae Chaem. Half an hour and a shower later they were gone and I was ready.

As the humidity held heavy hands upon us, I look towards the couple, the only other visitors of the sanctuary. For the next week we would be doing every activity together, they in their own little world, I felt extremely alone.

We trekked into the jungle to see the elephants, two were together, and one was alone, Thong Dee was rejected by the two best friends. Elephants who live at BEES are older, which is what the sanctuary is known for.  A home for elderly and retired elephants, here they can live out the rest of their lives, just being elephants.

Each one has the physical and emotional scars from their life before.  Thong Dee, a resident of the sanctuary for two years, has a stretched stomach and her pumpkins (which she loves) have to be chopped for digestion.

We continue to walk to join the two friends, Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee including going through a stream, the cool water is welcoming even if I am the only one who did not pack galoshes.

Shin tells us we first will see Thong Dee who does not go far into the jungle because she is easily tired, so straight up we walk on a trail recently made by her footprints.

When we reach Thong Dee, she is peacefully munching on leaves, her mahout stands nearby and motions for us to get closer.

As we stand there, her face shines with such beauty and contentment.  You can see in her eyes, pure happiness and freedom, from the tourism and logging industry.

Each one of us has our picture taken with her, she remains oblivious yet cooperative.  When my turn comes and I gently stroke her side, I start to cry. 

To think of the hard life she had and when I would later hear her whole story, I wanted to hug her and say “you are loved.”

With each visit to a sanctuary during my two month trip to Asia, I knew I would form bonds with the elephants.  My time with Thong Dee was so unique and mine.

I think because we were both outcasts, with a great deal of time in solitude.  I look back to my week at BEES and how little interaction I had with the couple, much like Thong Dee and the best friends.

When we were not cleaning pumpkins, or stocking the fruit cellars with bananas, we had time to rest and prepare for the next duty.

I spent a great deal of this time on the porch of my bungalow writing, truly feeling the whole essence of my time in Thailand and the reason for being there.

On our last day, we carried a basket of chopped pumpkins to Thong Dee.  She immediately walked to us smiling and digging into her breakfast.  Butterflies were fluttering nearby and I took in one last look at the place with the dogs wrestling nearby and the soft chewing of Thong Dee's aging teeth, I hoped she knew how much my week with her meant to me.



Tiffany Parker

Tiffany Parker lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her husband, four cats and a turtle. She loves traveling, hiking, camping, reading and thrifting. She recently traveled for two months in Southeast Asia to volunteer at various elephant sanctuaries. She is currently working on her memoir about her travels and path to her adventures.

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