Name: Jungle Boy
Thai Name: Thong Suk
Where Now: Elephant Nature Park in affiliation with Save Elephant Foundation
Location: Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand
Thong Suk For more Photos of Jungle Boy see them at: Elephant Nature Park
The first glimpses Lek had of Jungle Boy was when she noticed the movements of a baby elephant kicking inside his mother’s belly. It was on the mountain path tourists follow when riding on the backs of the “trekking elephants”. Unfortunately his mama was beholden to her owner to serve as one.
Without delay Lek spoke with the mahout in charge of this “expectant mother” and was told of a contract in place which would not allow her rest until her duties were fulfilled, to the end. Whether the elephant was pregnant or not didn’t concern her owners. As “Lek was deeply troubled by this” she didn’t rest until she found a way to “rent the elephant” to take her out of this cruel industry, at least while she carried her baby.
It was not more than 2 weeks later that a second glimpse of Thong Suk was caught in the dawning hours from the jungle area at the “Elephant Haven”. It was on a Thursday, 15 November 2001 when Jungle Boy came into the world, a “tiny, healthy, and hairy” baby elephant; the sanctuary’s first “jungle-born” calf, thus his name.
He was quite a charmer from the start, his curiosity immediately set in, and “from his first contact with the earth” he set out walking. Little Jungle Boy would boldly walk up (in all of his loveable clumsiness) to Lek and all of the volunteers and would “sniff and push” with his little trunk trying to show who was boss. He “showed his intelligence from the first hour of his life”.
As both Jungle Boy and his mama were on borrowed time the dreaded day came (2 months later) that they were called back to duty at the “elephant trekking camp”. They may have left diligently, but not without a summation from the mother elephant as she “trumpeted very loud with anger, fear, and sadness”.
The sight of both elephants leaving the safety and security of the haven left the staff and volunteers “heartbroken”; they all “turned silently and cried”.
The very next day they all went to visit both elephants. What they saw was a very sad and “nervous little boy” clinging to his mother, “not quite sure” of his surroundings, and “frequently tripping and falling down”.
Now baby elephants in the wild are able to nap when drowsy (or take their mother’s milk when hungry) or make leisurely stops when weary. But these baby elephants had jobs. These babies were not allowed to be elephants. They were made to march on, all red-eyed “with tiredness,” being forced to learn the ways of the humans “programming” them to work. The mama elephants, of course, were defenseless to protect their babies, to shelter them from harm’s way.
Soon, Jungle Boy “was part of an elephant convoy” and it didn’t take him long to figure out that the most expeditious way to ending his service as a “tourist elephant taxi” was to learn a new skill. He was becoming street smart in the “tourist circles” and knew that football was his way out. If he could just learn to handle a football, he could get rewards, paid in the form of bananas. And he did learn that game and endured that unnatural form of play (at least for elephants) for a while.
Then, he was saved, again.
Back at the Elephant Nature Park, back to the life of an elephant away from the training and the cruel world of the elephant tourist industry. (The fate of his mama was not explained but it is assumed she had to stay behind.)
Jungle Boy now spends his days frolicking in his mud hole, splashing in his river and spending time with his newfound family. As he continues to grow may he always remember the jungles that surround him (this place of his birth, his namesake) and feel the nearby echoes from the continuing love of his mama.
For information on how to Adopt/Sponsor Jungle Boy see: Elephant Nature Park/Save Elephant Foundation
See video of Jungle Boy all grown up!
Photo credit: Elephant Nature Park