I have briefly touched on elephant showers in earlier posts. Showers are an essential part of the routine of every elephant at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand centre. Even in the midst of rainy season the temperatures here are stiflingly hot – Asian elephants, in the wild, will regularly bath themselves; of course, our elephants have not been raised as wild animals, so we give them a little encouragement.
Showers (or “upnam” as is said in Thai) are important for several reasons. The main reason, which is easy to guess, is to cool the elephants off a few times a day. All of the elephants have at least one big water bowl – large enough to stand in – and some have mud wallows, streams or even a pool/lake. If they really wanted to they could go and give themselves a bath – but they don’t always do this. On very hot days you might see Khan Kluey swimming, or Boonmee spraying herself with water from her tub. Other elephants, such as Pai Lin, will spit on themselves – this is an indication that they are far too hot. Pai Lin knows full well where her water tub is, but she rarely goes off by herself to use it. Thus, we bring her a great big bowl of juicy fruit, get her to follow us through her enclosure, and give her a feed while we hose and scrub her down. Life could be worse!
Elephants naturally cover themselves in dirt, dust and/or mud – this acts as protection for their skin from the sun. All the elephants at WFFT can be seen giving themselves mud baths. When I first began working with the ellies here I had wondered why we had to scrub all the mud off their bodies if we could; why wasn’t a decent hose good enough? Apparently we scrub the elephants when we can in order to reduce the chance of parasites found in the dirt or mud from establishing themselves. Some elephants, such as Boonmee, don’t tend to cover themselves in much of anything – but you can guarantee a character like Nam Chok will always have a thick coating of mud and even rocks all over her. It is so satisfying to get her all squeaky clean then watch her go and throw dirt all over herself again!
For the elephants that you can’t get close to, such as Somboon and Khan Kluey, we utilise their lakes. See Puak and Duanphen also have a lake – See Puak will use it, but Duanphen is usually less inclined to do so, so the mahouts will hose her down. Duanphen has a habit of kicking volunteers, which is why we leave it up to the mahouts to get close to her.
Khan Kluey and Somboon are adorable in their lakes – Khan Kluey will sometimes literally throw himself in there, or fall sideways into it. He loves tumbling around in the water! He will do this himself when he feels like it, but to give them more incentive we take a huge bowl of fruit, stand outside the fenceline and throw pieces into the lake. Somboon probably wouldn’t get in on her own, so this does help encourage her to use the lake. Usually she will only get her legs wet if she can help it, but lately it has been so hot that she has been fully submerging herself at times – it’s great to watch! Here’s a little video of them in the water from a couple of days ago. They are such beautiful animals; I could simply watch them all day.
Once a shower is over, the elephants will emerge dark and glistening from the water. They will tell you when they’ve had enough by simply walking away to graze or have a dust bath. I love the days where they hang around for an extra long scrub, or stay in their lakes well after the food is finished.
There is a large, beautiful lake opposite the Centre on the other side of the dirt road. Historically, elephants would be taken down to the lake on a walk and that’s where they would be showered. The lake is used by many, though; locals wash their laundry there, and also use it to bathe themselves. Complaints were being made about the Centre and its use of the lake, so unfortunately the regular elephant baths in the lake no longer happen. We can get away with it every so often – recently Boonmee was walked down to the water’s edge for a tour, and had a bit of a wade through the lake. Boonmee is one of the girls that doesn’t have a pool in her enclosure, and it has been months since she had used one; she was a little apprehensive but still gave it a good go. It made for some wonderful photos. We were surprised by shouts from a farmer all the way across the lake – he unfortunately saw Boonmee and came racing over in his truck to yell at us. I understand the viewpoint of the locals, but at the same time I’m glad we took the opportunity to take Boonmee out – as I said, it has been months since any elephant has been in to the lake!