Tomorrow, March 13, is a very important day in Thailand. It’s my day: National Elephant Day. So on our special day, I thought I’d tell you a bit about my life at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle*.
I live with a group of other rescued “gentle giants” at a resort on 160 acres of forest next to the Golden Triangle itself. We have a pretty idyllic life: professional care, endless supplies of bananas and sugar cane (66 lbs, or 30 kg, per day minimum).
My name is Yuki (“snow” in Japanese). I’m considered a teenager now at age 25, and I’ve seen it all. I was born in Thailand’s Surin province, but shipped to Japan shortly after. I missed my mom so much, though, that I was returned to Thailand within a few months. At one point in my career, I was bought by an advertising agency and worked as a Japanese TV star. I also had a short stint in a Philippine hotel giving tourists rides on the beach. But for most of my life, I worked on Pattaya’s tourist strip, performing in cabarets and begging on the streets.
Until one day my luck changed, and I found myself with a new, happy, comfortable home—and new friends—at Four Seasons Tented Camp.
Nowadays, I tap into my supermodel background, taking part in magazine fashion shoots and TV filming episodes. With my personal mahout—a Hindi word meaning “person who rides elephants”—(really more like a lifelong companion, who cares for me and works with me every day) I spend days in the jungle teaching guests the ancient skills of the mahouts and elephants, as well as taking them for leisurely treks through the forest.
All guests at the camp are invited to take part in elephant training and trekking, either with me, or with one of my other ele-friends. And, I’m a key player in Wedding Ceremonies at the camp. I often present the bouquet to the bride using my trunk—always good for a few smiles.
My BFF (Best Friend Forever) is Phuang Phet (Bunch of Diamonds). We are always together. She is a graceful ex-city gal with expensive tastes, now enjoying the quiet life in the Golden Triangle. A beautiful 30-something, Puang Phet literally walked into our lives when her owners brought her to the local village. She was living in the back of a six-wheel truck making a living by walking the streets selling sugar cane. Her owners loved her and cried when they left her with us, but couldn’t afford to keep her. Now healthy and happy, she is one of our camp stars.
Another one of my friends is Boun Ma, a Northern lady slightly older than Phuang Phet and I, who didn’t take to forest work and ended up begging in the city. Poor thing, she was treated roughly and has the scars to prove it. Boun Ma has become very popular with camp guests. She’s known by all as being a patient trainer.
Her best friend is Thong Kam (Golden), the grande dame of our group at 55. No one’s really sure where Thong Kam came from. They say elephants never forget, but Thong Kam says she can’t remember much of her earlier years. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to tell us. They say she’s probably an ex-logger. What we do know is that she comes from he South and she has rhythm in her heart.
In comparison to the old days, when elephants worked long, rough days in the logging industry, our work day at Four Seasons is a walk in the park:
7:30 am Pick up by our personal mahout from the grasslands where we rest overnight
8:00 Bathe and brush teeth
8:30 Breakfast (Actually, we eat all day. We consume 6% of our body weight, about 550 lbs (250 kg) a day! And all we eat is veggies.) Our favorite treats: sugar cane, banana, watermelon and pineapple.
9:00 Warm up; prepare for guest mahout training and elephant trekking
9:30-11:30 Mahout training and elephant trekking
12-2 pm Lunch break
2:30-4:30 Mahout training and elephant trekking (afternoon session)
Evening Freshen up, finish work and hang out with the girls
12am-4am Sleep time
Occasionally, we get to take part in other fun activities, such as sunrise treks to the Camp Peak, where the views over the Mekong and the Lao mountains as the sun rises are incredible.
As you can see, we’re taken very good care of, as are our mahouts and their families. The mahouts’ wives sell their beautiful handmade silk scarves, shawls and stoles at the Camp Boutique—great souvenirs for friends at home. The families have started their own silkworm farm, harvesting, spinning and weaving raw silk into garments. Proceeds go directly to these families who take care of us.
All of our food, veterinary and incidental bills (30,000 baht, $1,000 USD, a month), plus wages and benefits for our mahouts, are covered for us through the work of the Tented Camp and the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. What touches me is that so many people are committed to supporting elephant rescue.
The kids who visit us love to take home super cute and furry toy elephants. I think it’s because the toy herd is modeled after us. Each elephant is sitting, reclining or standing in our favorite positions (I’m seated with my trunk in the air, my favorite pose; people tell me I’m very good at it), so it’s easy to tell us apart. What’s great is that sales support the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, an organization that rescues elephants off Thai city streets (including me and the other girls) and finds them safe, humane homes.
For more info on elephant rescue programs in Northern Thailand, see www.helpingelephants.org, and if you’d like to spend some of your pocket money on helping other elephants like me, Boun Ma, Thong Kham and Phuang Phet, you can make donations to the foundation through its website.
Note: Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle welcomes kids 12 and older.
Read more about Golden Triangle in Four Seasons Magazine.
Yuki is an elephant resident at Thailand’s Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. Born in 1987 in the Surin province, she is a well-traveled, ex-international supermodel who worked in Japan, the Philippines and on the streets of Thailand. Rescued from a life of begging, she has semi-retired camp existence. Her name means “snow” in Japanese. At Four Seasons, Yuki works with guests on elephant training and trekking, and assists in wedding ceremonies. She’s also been known to star in magazine photo shoots and TV episode filming. She’s truly one of the stars of the camp.
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