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A man of many words. Profane, profound, loyal to a fault and a right rat bastard. I love the finer things in life: expensive cigars, cheap women and all the salted, cured meats I can eat. A friend to dogs, lover of humanity and despiser of people. If I were King the world would be a better place, because, well...I would be King! Oh, and I like ice cream.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Elephant Doo Doo Duties



I've kind of gotten away from what I actually did with the elephants. These first two pix show what I did the first thing every morning. Rani was chained (chains are part of every tame elephant's life.) to a tree stump alongside a little meadow each night. Her "stall," as it were, was a concrete slab. One of my jobs was to clean her stall area from the previous night's "stuff." "Stuff" included the remains of the palm leaves, Jak fruit and anything else she would dine on and her dung. She ate alot of food and always left ALOT of dung. I'm guessing 100 to 150 pounds per night. And I'd have to say she was a "regular" gal.

At first, in a show of macho bravado, I did everything bare handed. After all, the mahouts did everything barehanded. And barefooted. Sure it was filthy, but an elephant only digests about 30% of the stuff they eat anyway. So it was mostly just leaves and twigs. Aromatic leaves and twigs. But, elephant dung tends to attract these nasty little caterpiller-like critters that had a nasty bite. After one such nip I started wearing the gloves. Why they didn't use shovels I'll never know. Basically I got rid of the poop by tossing it over the river embankment. The local paper factory routinely came over to collect some of the dung, but that's a whole 'nother story. Anyway, the morning stall mucking usually only took about fifteen minutes. After sweeping up and washing the spot down with a couple buckets of water it was time to go down to the river for the morning bath.

This was the first elephant I washed when I first arrived. I didn't know what I was doing, but the mahout said I did a good job.

Chananda, Rani's mahout, told me several times that I was good at washing elephants. It was gratifying. After 56 years on this planet I'd finally found a skill at which I was a natural (that is if you discount Bullshit Artist). We did it by scrubbing that tough hide with sliced coconut husks. You know, it was surreal. You'd be laying all over the animal, pushing her ears, yelling at her to lift her leg (Whatina BILA!!), focusing on a small area, when all of a sudden the mahout would command her to stand up. You'd look at her and think, "Holy Smokes!" They really are big.

After about an hour and a half we would be finished. By that time tourists would be showing up to see and ride the elephants. That's how the mahouts make their money. Through the tips they get. It's not a lush life.

After breakfast the volunteers would gather in the Vet room to make up the day's vitamins and dough balls for the MEF herd. Every elephant is checked daily and evaluated weekly for nutrition needs. Some of the older elephants come to MEF in poor physical health and need LOTS of attention as they are nursed back to health.
A couple hours after the morning bath, the mahouts would bring them around so we could check their feet for cuts, stones or foot rot (a common problem. After all, they tend to stand around in piles of their own poop all day long.) Any cuts, abrasions, infections or sores are treated. And finally they're fed the daily doughball.


And that was the basic duties with the elephants every day. Tara, the MEF guy in charge of the volunteers always urged us to talk to the elephants, because they would get used to us and come to know who we were. I think it worked. Chananda and I talked and sang to Rani everyday. He in Sinhalese, me in English. I'm sure she was quite confused.

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