Pang Noi (Miss Little in Thai) is the smallest of our adult females and our most ambitious rescue to date. When three-out-of-five owners of a pregnant logging elephant visited BLES to propose a sale, Katherine and Anon had no idea what a confusing and complicated rescue they were about to conduct. The owners, five family members, expressed their desire to sell an elephant that would be useless once the calf was born. Katherine and Anon were relieved when told that the elephant was just an hour away in Uttaradit. However, when Katherine and Anon arrived at the meeting site, they were told that the elephant was in Chiang Kong, a 12-hour drive from BLES. Undeterred, they drove the 12-hour trip and were greeted by the three representative owners, who insisted on hosting a dinner for Katherine and Anon before the elephant could be viewed. Dinner came and went, but still no elephant appeared. Katherine and Anon were assured that the elephant would be presented in the morning. Cautious with funds, Katherine and Anon spent the night in the back of their truck. With the morning came plenty of stories and excuses, but the elephant was still curiously absent. It was only after Katherine and Anon threatened to return to BLES and cancel the purchase, that the actual dilemma was revealed.
The elephant had been smuggled into Laos 16 years earlier by one of the owners who had been working for a logging company since that time. Despite the owners’ intentions to sell the elephant, they were nervous about its sale and unsure of how to manage its return to Thailand. Katherine and Anon agreed to travel to Laos, but visas were required and Katherine found herself covering the costs for all parties involved. The location, in Laos, where the elephant was working required an additional five-hour drive on inhospitable, rough terrain. When they ultimately reached Pang Noi, Katherine was alarmed that the elephant was made to log despite obvious pregnancy symptoms. Not due for several months, Pang Noi was already lactating and her belly hung dangerously low.
Recognizing that the elephant must be moved to BLES for immediate care, Katherine urgently addressed two issues: lack of funds and missing certification
Katherine was able to secure the funds through the generosity of Shirley and Derek Baker and the Elephant Family, a UK-based charity created to help endangered Asian elephants. The certification problem proved to be multi-faceted. Moving elephants across borders is illegal, but Katherine and Anon were able to convince the local government of Pang Noi’s origins. As a Thai elephant, her return to Thailand was permissible.
In order to facilitate her transfer, it was necessary to create a new certificate of ownership that all five owners were required to sign. But since the fifth family member was still in Chiang Kong, Thailand, one of the four relatives from Laos was dispatched back to Thailand to collect the missing signature. With proper certification finally acquired, the issue of how Pang Noi could travel came under evaluation.
The stress of trucking a pregnant elephant in an unstable vehicle could likely bring on a premature labor, endangering the lives of both the mother and calf. Katherine decided that the least arduous option would be to walk Pang Noi from Laos to BLES. Two mahouts from the BLES team joined the elephant to travel with her at her own pace, resting and grazing as she desired. After three months of fits and starts, Pang Noi completed the final phase of her rescue, arriving at BLES in two weeks without health complications.
Once at BLES, the elephant’s years of working under difficult conditions manifested in contrary behaviors. Pang Noi would only take food if it was thrown on the ground, attributable, perhaps, to the fact that the tip of her trunk had been cut off. She greatly disliked mahouts, and consequently, was difficult to manage. One special mahout, Sot, had tireless faith in her ability to be rehabilitated, and worked incrementally to gain her trust. There is little doubt that the birth of her healthy calf is attributable to the care and kindness she was shown by her mahout. Four months after her journey to BLES, three months before her due date, Pang Noi’s Star was born. Unfortunately, Star suffered a tragic death after a bad thunderstorm.
Pang Noi found friendship with Pang Suwai and the two girls are inseparable to this day.