Salee, losing her mind to her altered nervous system. Testing in progress. (Photo credit: Michael Wysocki).

By Michael Wysocki

We, as in all species, need our personal “sanctuary,” our peaceful place that we find even inside our aggressive yet stimulating cities. A place either by ourselves, or that we share with someone special. My sanctuary in New York City was the Harlem River, in Los Angeles its Venice Beach. You should know, FAE is not an Elephant Sanctuary, it is a Hospital.

There are a few blessed Elephants that can safely call FAE home; including Motala, Mosha, Ekhe, Auan, and just recently Bobo, that will live out their lives here in the giving hands of FAE staff, down the hill somewhat sheltered from the drama above. As for the rest of the Elephants, their days are full of syringes, injections, antiseptic soaks, enemas, and many other medical practices; balanced out with treats, cleanliness, and affection.

I made my way to Chiang Mai this past week to renew my visa, so I thought. I ended up having to make my way to Burma for a last minute “border run.” Yes it sounds fun, and is; even after four different bus rides. My time in Chiang Mai became a part of my journey to learn more, and I became reassured by my God that he is behind me. I experienced what a tourist would face as I wandered the streets of the old city, seduced by many attractions but refusing the most prominent, Elephant Trekking, “The ultimate jungle experience.” I stopped and read out of curiosity, gazing into the eyes of the Elephants. It was then I knew how different Soraida’s mission for FAE was from other Elephant camps here in Thailand, whether it be Trekking, Shows, or even Conservation Parks.

While I was exploring one of Chiang Mai’s exhilarating night markets, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by a material world, and my feeling impulsively kicked me off the street and into a used bookstore where I lingered till I found an old National Geographic magazine from 1995, featuring the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda. I was reading the article last night to Bobo’s mahout, Lamae, who is learning English. The word refugee stamped my mind, but it wasn’t until this morning that I realized I want to compare these Elephants to Rwanda’s refugees. For what seems like an everlasting chaotic war on innocent and vulnerable people, but in our case, Elephants.
Here is why: An American hospital is never a fun place, as your world outside is way more appealing. So I wouldn’t say it’s a typical hospital experience you may have had.

Imagine watching the last standing building become a hospital, in a war-wounded region such as Rwanda, with thousands of refugees. What you see inside pierces your heart, but the effect is a warmed blood stream. The victims are, in a way, blessed by their injuries, which enabled them to escape their life for a moment and place it in the hands of those who care. Today in Thailand, this is the reality for Asia’s captive working Elephants, and FAE hospital is here for them. Soraida is not claiming to show you, here at FAE, how Elephants should live in captivity, or that FAE hospital is a happy place. We all desire to see Elephants just be Elephants, but this is a war, and FAE hospital is filled with battle scars.

If you come to Thailand to play with Elephants and blow your money on cheap massages and colorful trinkets, I suggest adding some more meaning to your life and visit FAE hospital. No one who really looks into the heart of FAE, accepting and devoted as she is, can remain unchanged.

Salee exits the truck and tries to walk at FAE's Elephant Hospital. (Photo credit: Michael Wysocki).