CHIANGRAI TIMES– Elephants have been revered in Thailand for many centuries. Famous as the strongest beasts of burden, in Thailand they were important in battle, with kings mounted on Elephants fighting the Burmese to defend Thailand on many occasions. They have also been noted for their intelligence, memory and pleasant nature. A Thai legend has it that a marriage is like an elephant– the husband is the front legs, that choose the direction, the wife the back legs, providing the power.
A white elephant is even included in the flag of the Royal Thai navy, and the “order of the white elephant” is one of the highest honours, bestowed by the king. White elephants, in fact, are very rarely completely white. The skin has to be very pale in certain areas to qualify as a “white elephant”
In the past, wild elephants were caught and trained. The city of Mae Hong Sorn was founded as a stockade for newly caught elephants, since that region had a high elephant population. This century, the number of elephants has declined so rapidly that the entire domesticated stock are one or more generations from their wild forebears. There are still a few thousand wild elephant in northern Thailand.
Thailand’s elephant lovers are throwing a big party today at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) in this northern province, beginning with a traditional merit-making ceremony to mark Thai Elephant Day, falling on March 13.
Under Royal Patronage, the conservation centre under the National Elephant Institute of Thailand held the merit-making rites in Hang Chat district on national Elephant Day to wish the jumbos good health and luck, as well as to paying tribute and homage to deceased elephants.
The religious ceremony was joined by TECC officials, the public and some 30 elephants.
Apart from a traditional merit-making event, the centre also presented awards for the best mahout—a mahout is an elephant handler— and for the person who captured the most meaningful elephant-related photograph. And of course, for the food-conscious, it should be noted that special foods for elephants were served in northern-style food ware.
Not only to mark Thai Elephant Day, the event was aimed to raise public awareness about elephant conservation as the latest elephant census shows Thailand’s pachyderm population dropping to less than 5,000 countrywide.
The decrease has resulted from a lack of healthcare, food and water and the encroachment of people and contemporary lifestyles into the elephant’s traditional habitat.
In the northernmost province of Chiang Rai, ethnic Karen people live in a hilltribe village in the provincial seat, the only village dedicated to caring for elephants in the province. They hosted traditional religious rites to wish good health and luck for the elephants and the mahouts. They also fed the jumbos with their favourite food and fruits including sugar cane, fresh sweet corn and bananas.