Time speeds by like a motorbike in the night. Light cycles passing through the dark, streaking the city and racing on. No rearview, no problem. There’s nothing there you haven’t seen before.
My internship with Elephant Nature Foundation is passing quickly. From the first moments after arrival, driven to my new apartment home, to today, typing in the Old City office, every experience is folded into the ongoing mélange of me. I can’t yet fathom who I will be in the end, but I also can’t wait to see.
My first days at the Elephant Nature Park were best punctuated in exclamation: Elephants! Activists! Forest Valley! Everything there amazed me and each day greeted my wider eyes with new surprises. I photographed incredible animals with the patron saint of Asian elephant protection. I worked for a wonderful cause with passionate volunteers from all over the world. I gained a better understanding of ecotourism operations, both the visitor expectations and the organization’s responsibility. From these experiences, working and learning with the near ubiquitous elephants, came the jolt to supercharge my passion and energy for the cause. Even in difficult times since, my resolve has yet to waiver.
Elephant Nature Foundations’s Chiang Mai office is equal parts menagerie and all in one organizational headquarters. It’s an air - conditioned sanctuary, with sleek white floors, newish desks of light brown wood, and clean glass windows surrounding its perimeter. A cat, dogs, and a Brazilian chicken roam the main area, surprising and delighting most who step through the glass doors. For the amount of strangers walking into their home, the animals are usually well - behaved. All come from the streets or abusive pasts and, watching them frolic around the office, one gets the sense they were always meant to be here. And, like gears in a clock, they fit with the staff to keep the office ticking along.
Every one working in the ENF headquarters has a unique rhythm and energy. Forms and emails fly around, desk top projections of the work supporting the passion. There are no elephant rescues, international volunteer groups, or conservation efforts without the people here; glamour and mass appeal come from paperwork, accounting, outreach, and fundraising. Being where the cameras stop and volunteers depart, behind the scenes and set pieces, is more difficult than working at the Park. Staring at a computer screen and typing documents for hours can be utterly mind - numbing; the crash after an unbelievable high. But yet, one can’t look away from this work. With ENF, the projects and elephants are actors and the staff is cast and crew. We give life to the foundation's workings, stand behind the curtains, and watch as something bigger than any individual emerges to move hearts and call its audience to action.
Lek is our auteur: planning and performing every movement. Viewers need to see her romping with the elephants as much as we need her artistic acumen to ensure the show goes on. Whether desk bound and typing to grow her foundation or park based and playing to raise spirits, she’s inspiring. Her mission isn’t easy, but she’s chosen to accept it. Chosen to give every ounce of her being to a species lumbering towards extinction. An average elephant family needs over ten thousand acres of intact habitat to survive; the population numbers and available wild habitat can’t currently sustain the species. Even as an umbrella species, they might not weather this deluge.
In this work, such downer thoughts must enter only momentarily. When it comes to Asian elephants and their endangered ilk, it’s easier to lose your determination than to keep going. Everything worth doing is worth a fight though, and any amount of typing that fight entails is well worth sitting through. I always leave the office with much to contemplate, and the feeling there’s more to be done.
When the night comes, I explore the city. I’ve been on the motorbikes, cutting through the streetlight and darkness. It’s astride a speeding bike I gain clarity: hopelessness is letting go. It’s getting crushed by time or, worse, watching it pass. The most difficult situations ask you to have hope, hold on, and drive forward; to race towards an uncertain destination. To give the journey everything you’ve got, and appreciate wherever it takes you.