Working with elephants in Thailand may not be many people’s idea of a romantic wedding anniversary trip, but for a Burntisland couple it was a dream come true.
Bruce and Ailsa Meldrum of the town’s Lonsdale Crescent, spent their 25th wedding anniversary last year helping to care for Asian elephants in Thailand and they have two more elephant adventures booked for this year.
The pair say they were not surprised when they heard of the recent elephant attack in Thailand which they believe was caused by the traditional methods of training them using bull hooks.
“The place where we went last year was a Save the Elephants Foundation run facility where they do not use any form of cruelty towards the animals and are all about rescuing them from the tourism industries which exploit them for money and instead caring for them in a much more natural way,” said Ailsa who has had a lifelong passion for elephants.
Bruce (56), a fitter at Waverley station and Ailsa (49), a college lecturer, were looking for something a bit different to celebrate their milestone anniversary, and Bruce decided he wanted to take his wife to Thailand to see elephants in real life.
“I was thinking about doing the touristy, elephant-ride thing, but then I came upon the Save the Elephant Foundation page and saw that you could go out to Thailand as a volunteer to help look after them and I thought that would be a much better way to get to see them,” he said.
And the couple say that, after spending a fortnight at the project, caring for and walking the Asian elephants every day with other volunteers from around the world, their eyes had been opened to the way most are treated in captivity.
“We are firmly of the belief that the way the Foundation does things is the correct way,” said Ailsa.
“When you saw the trust built up between the elephants and their mahouts (handlers) within the foundation’s complex, you could tell that that was much stronger than any that could be achieved through fear and breaking their spirit by cruelly treating them.”
The Surin Project is a unique and innovative concept aimed at improving the living conditions of captive Asian elephants by providing economic sustainability for their owners through responsible volunteer tourism. It works alongside the Gwi community in the Surin Elephant Study Centre located in the village of Ban Tha Klang in the Surin Province.
Every day on their trip, after rising around 6am to the trumpetting of the elephants and eating breakfast the couple would help clean out the enclosures and chop sugar cane for them to eat.
They were also involved in putting up fences, clearing vegetation and gathering seeds to help develop the project.
Then after lunch they would walk the elephants through the forest or down to the water where they would get in the water beside them and help scrub them with brushes.
“Nothing can describe the feeling of getting up that close to such a beautiful animal. It was a really emotional experience for me and I was in my element. I can’t wait to go back again,” said Ailsa.
“The mahouts commanded them just by voice and they obeyed. One man even drew a line in the dirt and told his elephant not to go across it and it did as it was told!”
“Everyone who was there volunteering was there for the same reason as us so it was great and we made some good friends during our stay,” added Bruce.
“We are going back to the same place in April then to another similar sancturary in Cambodia in June and we are really looking forward to it.”
Ailsa added: “I can’t wait to go again. There’s nothing quite like waking in the morning to the trumpetting of the elephants and knowing you will get to spend the day with these magnificent creatures.”
For more information about the project visit: www.surinproject.org/