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Nam Chok

Nam Chok

Where do I start about Nam Chok? She is such a character. She is another poor lass from a life of street performing after being retired from the logging industry – but it hasn’t broken her; she’s got some real attitude. Nam Chok has been at the Centre since February this year, and is in her 50s. The first day I arrived I was walking around the sanctuary, visiting the different animals and I went up to say hello to Nam Chok. She was right up by her rope/wire fence, and held her trunk out to me. Back home at the zoo we used to blow into the elephants’ trunks as a greeting – so I tried it with Nam Chok. She wasn’t interested and instead put her trunk against my arm. I had thought this was sweet – until suddenly I realised she was trying to grab it! Nam Chok has a real food drive, and on a ‘bad’ day will run you out of her enclosure if she isn’t satisfied with things. The mahouts are utterly terrified of her – “Nam Chok mai chop mahout” they will say; Nam Chok doesn’t like mahouts! Only one mahout here currently, Boo, will let Nam Chok out for a walk every couple of days. I don’t know what will happen if he leaves; nobody else has the confidence with her. Boo works with her really well, and she usually listens to him.

Nam Chok and Boo

Nam Chok and Boo

On my first working day I was asked to stay behind from the 9am harvest, which meant I would be helping a couple of other volunteers to care for all of the elephants – including Nam Chok. I learnt very quickly that you have to feed her some distractions before even attempting to go into her enclosure for cleaning. I really do like her personality though. She is one of the few that you can go in with even when a mahout isn’t around – but you do have to be careful (i.e. give her some food to keep her busy, or she will follow you around!). When we are out and about she may suddenly decide to rush at you if she thinks you have food, or she stands and waves her trunk at you until she is satisfied you do not have anything she wants to eat. Sometimes you have to empty your pockets and hold up your hands before she believes you!

"I don't have food for you!"

“I don’t have food for you!”

Nam Chok has a pretty nice enclosure. It begins up the top of a hill and slopes down until it hits a big pool of water. She spends most of her time during the day up the top by the entrance – where she gets fed. In between times of feeding and human contact she will be down exploring things – we always scatter food for her to find, and it encourages her to use the whole of her exhibit. When she first arrived at the Centre her enclosure was split into two, and the other half was shared with Boonmee. Boonmee was moved a few months ago after a couple of elephants sadly passed away; she now has their old enclosure and Nam Chok has this one to herself. It’s very pretty; trees, mud piles, a stream, and different substrate for her to use. Unfortunately she can’t actually get into the big water hole – for some reason there isn’t a ramp that she can use, so it would be impossible for her to get in and out again. I hope this changes in the near future.
To be honest, though, I’m not sure how often Chok would use her pool. She is always, always covered in mud – more than any other elephant at the Centre. It is hilarious; as soon as we shower her she’ll be off to cover herself in dirt and mud. We shower every elephant at least twice a day – it keeps them cool, but also limits the amount of parasites they pick up from the mud. Plus it gives them something to do; Nam Chok receives a big bowl of fruit to eat while we desperately scrub the thick layers of mud from her back, face and legs, and then she amuses herself with another dust bath.










Today we had a fairly big tour group through the Centre and the plan was to walk Boonmee. Luckily Boo was here, so we also took Nam Chok out. Boonmee got bored pretty quickly and turned around to walk herself home, but Nam Chok let everyone follow her through the forest in the dry heat. She had a good time foraging, which was great to see; I feel bad for her when Boo isn’t around for a few days to walk her. It makes me wonder what will happen if he decides to leave. Nam Chok is a seriously sweet lady, but you can tell most of the other mahouts are very scared of her. A few of them won’t even come in with us when we’re giving her a shower. Even with westerners she has the ability to surprise you; she can instantly transform from a slow-moving ellie to a speedy, determined mass. When she’s heading straight towards you it is definitely intimidating, and you want to get out of the way quickly.
I’ve definitely seen more and more of the different animals’ personalities the longer I’ve been here. I am so sad it is my last week; it would be amazing to stay for a year and really, really get to know the ins and outs of how the animals behave, what they like and what they dislike etc. Chok is independent, but a lot of fun to be around. I know I haven’t been here long enough to make a lasting impression on the elephants, but I certainly won’t forget any of them.