International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Congress Logo 33rd World Vegetarian Congress
Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 4 - 10, 1999
'Vegetarianism is the Way'
an unforgettable visual, cultural and gastronomic experience

Saengduan Chailert, "Lek"

Slide Show about Rescued Elephants - Wednesday, January 6th 1999

Lek was born 1961 in a small village near Mae Taeng, about 50 km north of Chiang Mai. So connected as her family was to the land, Lek grew up with a great love for nature.

Lek's Grandfather had an elephant named Mae Tongkam with which Lek spent a great deal of time as she was growing up. Lek learned that these creatures are "high class animals" and are very intelligent. Her love and respect for these huge animals grew more and more as she herself grew up.

In her village there was no electricity and no access roads. The small village school had only one teacher for all children and each child only received four years of schooling. Any child who wanted to learn further would have to walk to a village 14km away for schooling. This Lek did each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the days in between being given to homework. She had to get up at 4 am when it was still dark arriving hours later at school wet from dew. During the cold season the journey especially unpleasant.

When she was 9 years old she wished to continue her studies but she was also now of an age where she would have to work for a living. So besides studying she took care of the pigs, cleaning, feeding and even hugging them with great love. So much so that every time one of the pigs went to be slaughtered, she cried bitterly because she just couldn't understand the cruelty she saw. Others made fun of her sensitive nature and Lek began to think that only the pigs really understood her pain.

When she was 12 years old, she was living with her Auntie and had to sell vegetables on the market to help make a living while at the same time studying at high school. She later received a scholarship and attained her BA in Humanity.

In 1986 she opened up her own travel agency and got involved with elephant camps. That is when she came to see how badly these creatures were being treated. Fueled by her deep compassion Lek began looking into ways to prevent this abuse, and approached many owners with advice and suggestions about kinder ways to treat their animals. Many, however, didn't listen, more concerned as they were to make money from the elephants. Modern times seem to have stripped the elephant of its majestic title and turned it into a mere commodity.

Determined to do something of lasting value, Lek decided to open her own elephant park, where the now 30 or so elephants can live out their days in dignity and peace. Many have sad stories behind them. And even humans have been killed by jealous elephant camp owners. A friend of Leks was shot trying to open the first elephant park for rescued elephants a number of years back. The park was burnt down as a warning, but Lek, brave and determined as she is, has never let such dangers stand in the way. She sold her house, her car and eventually, with her family's support she took over the camp.

Naturally Lek's family were afraid for her at first and resisted her decision. But Lek persisted and finally her dream came true - "Elephant Nature Park" is reality and about 30 elephants are living there now.

Lek will show us slides showing the elephants she has taken care of. She will tell us their stories. Sad ones and happy ones and we will see how clever these adorable animals are and how well developed is their sense of humour. And of course, one of the most significant characteristics of elephants is their excellent memory. They remember things even after many years.