Many people know about the 40,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk. It is a prehensile miracle. And there must be 60,000 thoughts a moment inside and elephant’s 5 kg brain.
But here’s a sad fact about elephants that I never knew before. During their lifetimes, elephants will generate and lose 6 sets of teeth. And after they lose their 6th set, they are unable to eat well and so they succumb. I wonder about the state of awareness as they spit up the last of their sixth set. What goes through an elephant’s mind? Do they wonder about their own demise?
Here are some other elephantine facts about pachyderms in Thailand.
There are around 7500 elephants in Thailand. 3800 are in captivity and about the same are living in the wild. And curiously, the number of elephants is growing by about 8 percent per year. The lifespan of elephants here is 50-60 years. Elephants have been used here for centuries for battle, burdensome tasks and entertainment. They batter. They move lumber. They move earth. They amuse tourists.
At least for those in captivity, each elephant needs a mahout or driver. And with the life expectancy what it is, this becomes a lifelong symbiotic relationship for sometimes, two generations. Two beings intertwined for life. An elephant must eat, and it takes a bit to keep them fed. So, the mahout must find work. If they can’t haul lumber, then they must go do other things.
The times being what they are it is hard to be an elephant.
We spent a weekend at the Anantara Golden Triangle. A nice place at a confluence of rivers overlooking Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Like many resorts, there is a spa, but also their own Muay Thai boxing ring and fitness center. They also have an elephant preserve with an interesting rescue component.
They rescue elephants from various places, but usually elephants from entertainment. When they hear of one, they go and speak with the mahouts. They offer to move the elephant, the mahout and his family to their preserve. They can live there rent free and free utilities. They’ll pay to send their kids to school. They get a little plot of land to grow veggies. They get free food and care for the elephants and the hotel will rent the elephant from them, so they have income.
This keeps the symbiosis going. The elephant and the mahout can live out their lives. The kids hopefully get educated into a better life than an elephant driver. And hotel guests get to splash around in the mud with an elephant. It’s a win for all. Until the last tooth falls out.