Bles was first made aware of the plight of two street elephants back in June 2008 when Katherine received a heartfelt email from Jan Tunks. Jan wrote of how she had befriended Tong Yui, the elder of the two elephants, while traveling around Thailand in November 2007. In her own words, “I had seen elephants in Bangkok some years earlier and had been devastated to see how they lived and worked. Despite her hard life, Tong Yui was full of love, compassion, and humility… she was kind, gentle and strong, and greeted me each day by holding her trunk up to my face and blowing gently…”
Her message went on to say that she was concerned enough about Tong Yui’s life on the streets that she contacted a number of elephant NGO’s regarding the elephant’s rescue. Not hearing back from any of them, Jan emailed BLES as a last hope to give Tong Yui the life she deserved.
At Jan’s urging, Katherine and Anon drove to Bangkok armed with nothing but Tong Yui’s name, the owner’s name, and two photos of the elephants. It took them days of searching and probing everyone they met as there are hundreds of young elephants working as beggars in Bangkok. It seemed like a mission impossible to locate and make contact with the owners but despite the obstacles, Katherine and Anon finally tracked them down. They discovered that the owners now had another younger elephant, Bong Beng, who worked along side Tong Yui.
The following eighteen months were filled with anticipation. BLES was eager to get the elephants off the streets, but the owner was content with his life and was making a small fortune from walking the streets. “Why would I want to leave?” He once said. “I can go where I want to, when I want to and I’m earning enough money to provide for my family.” Katherine, Anon, and Jan were frustrated with the owner’s way of thinking and had little luck in persuading him otherwise. They never gave up hope, however, that the owner might one day see the error of working his elephants on the streets, and change his mind.
That “one day” came in December 2009 when Katherine received an email from a member of the elephants’ owner’s family, asking her to get in touch. Together with Anon, Katherine travelled to meet with the owners and discuss the future of Tong Yui and Bong Beng. Not knowing exactly where to find them, Katherine once again, searched the streets, determined to find the two elephants. When she did, she was deeply disturbed by the state of the Tong Yui. She was malnourished, had lost weight, and was displaying obvious signs of mental stress. Katherine watched in horror as Tong Yui picked up a discarded beer bottle and proceeded to drink the contents. She was terrified and highly stressed and Katherine knew if something wasn’t done right there and then, Tong Yui’s condition would only worsen and lead to a premature death.
It didn’t take long to reach a compromise with the owner of the elephants and just one month later, Tong Yui and Bong Beng found themselves in the open arms ofBLES. The owner and his family have also moved into the Sanctuary and are enjoying watching their elephants discover the life that all Thai elephants should be living.
In September 2012, The owners of Tong Yui and Bong Beng removed the girls from BLES and took them back to Surin. The owner had a sudden decline in health and it was decided she should return to Surin where her family could provide her with the care she needed. Sadly, she insisted the girls went with her.
We have maintained contact and go to visit the girls as often as we can.
Their time at BLES allowed them to grow stronger and learn how to be real elephants - watching Lom take them to the rice field and show them how to graze is something we will never forget - or the day that they were both strong enough and brave enough to climb down into the BLES pond - wow!!!! They were true water babies!!!! Their squeals and squeaks of delight would ring out all over the sanctuary .
We are so proud of being able to give them a taste of true freedom and joy. Maybe one day they will be able to come home.