It’s 16 January, 2013, and we begin our journey with two rescued elephants from the logging industry. The sun hasn’t even begun to light the sky, and our Save Elephant Foundation team is awake and ready to bring these two girls back to the forest, where they belong.
The journey isn’t easy.
Even when the first oranges and pinks light the sky, the temperatures are still cold and our mahouts are draped in blankets a top the massive trucks as the wind from the road chills them. We progress to the Mekong River, where our two trucks and team are greeted by locals and travelers, all stopping to take photos and learn more about what we are doing.
“We have rescued them,” we explain. “Today, they will learn what is feels like to be free.”
After we cross the river, even the military takes notice of the beautiful elephants we have safely secured in our trucks. They thumb through one of Lek’s books we have brought along to show people the vision she has of the Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary – a place where elephants can once again be reunited with the forest and educate the locals on elephant and forest conservation – and they smile and wave us onwards.
For many hours, we travel down dusty dirt roads running through the middle of burning rice fields. Smoke fills our lungs, dirt covers our bodies, but behind us, in the trucks, are the elephants, en route to their new home.
Every village we pass through, we are greeted by the people, waving excitedly. For most, it is the first time they have seen an elephant with their own eyes.
And, when we arrive to the Sanctuary under the cover of night, people pull over on the side of the road to stop and watch as the two girls get their first taste of freedom.
Both elephants came off the truck without a problem, taking their first steps into the rest of their lives. In the morning, we are greeted with the sight of grazed grasses and elephants flinging dirt on themselves as the sun rises.
By the time the sun has come up, locals have already come to see the elephants.
“My boy wanted to come and see his elephants,” a local tells Lek.
“These are everyone’s elephants,” she says.“And they are free. From now on, they will live as they were meant to live – in the forest. They will never work again.”
It is the hope of SEF that these two elephants will stand as an example in Cambodia of what freedom for elephants can look like, as well as a reminder that there needs to be forests for these elephants to live. The jungle and the elephants, are an important part of conservation for the country and SE Asia.
Welcome to freedom!