RIP Mae Bia
Mae Bia, who was somewhere between 75 and 85 years old, passed away in December 2007 after speding two wonderful years enjoying her retirement. She was an energetic older elephant who moved about the Park at a rather brisk pace, despite her almost complete blindness.
We are thankful that we had the chance to give her a better life and get to know this wonderful old girl.
RIP, you will be missed.
Mae Bia usually likes to rest at the back of the main huts away from most of the other elephants. She appears to prefer more of a solitary existance than most of the other elephants. Whether this is because of her advanced age, a preference for solitude, a deminished capacity of socilaising caused by her time in captivity or some other reason we cannot be certain. She seems happy enough being on her own and she appears to enjoy a challenging relationship with her mahout giving him the runaround and actually playing jokes on him.
One example of this mischievous nature which we observed this week was Mae Bia using a neat trick to extract more bananas from her carer. She deliberately began to slowly dismantle bits of one of the bamboo guest huts. Slowly and methodically tearing off strips of bamboo and chewing them into smithereens. All entreaties from the mahout for her to stop this destructive practice were disdainfully ignored as she continued to remove piece after piece of the hut, nibble on it for a bit and then discard it. Eventually in frustration the mahout was forced to bring handfuls of bananas which was certainly more appatizing fare. Mae Bia quickly munched her way through the offerings and wandered off looking very pleased with herself.
As Mae Bia celebrates her first anniversary at the Park, we are delighted to report that she is in considerably better state of health than she was when she arrived. Gone is the skinny frame which revealed her backbone and ribs. As you can see from the photographs she has put on a significant amount of weight which is a good indicator of her general state of health.
Mae Bia has settled well at the Park and appears content, although it has become clear over the year that she is, by nature, a bit of a loner. She does occasionally socialize with other elephants, particularly Mae Mai, Medo and Hope, but she appears very content to spend long hours by herself walking considerable distances within the confines of the Park. She also spends hours down by the riverbank or wallowing in the river. Despite the solitude, mahouts at the Park report that she appears happy and content.
Mae Bia was given a new mahout, Min, recently and she seems to enjoy giving him the run-around. Despite this, the two appear to have formed a bond. Like Mae Bia, Min is a bit of a loner who is quite content in his own company. Min appears to have boundless patience and is more than prepared to put up with his elephant’s idiosyncrasies. They seem very happy together.
Although her general health is good, Mae Bia’s sight is deteriorating. This is reportedly due to her advancing years. Frequently she fails to pick up the presence of people near her and one of the mahouts told us a story of her wandering happily across the Park and heading straight for the giant bull, Max. She was charging along in her usual indomitable way, totally oblivious to Max’s presence until she was within four feet of crashing into him. When she suddenly realised he was there, she pulled up sharply with astonishment at his sudden appearance. Of all an elephant?s senses, sight is probably the least important so her fading eyesight should not cause Mae Bia too much distress.
Michael and Sheila Medlar were able to travel to Thailand to visit Mae Bia and see how she was settling in to her new home.
Despite being nervous when she first arrived she has quickly joined the Park’s other two golden girls, Mae Mai and Tong Bai. This group of distinguished senior citizens shares the same shelter at night and they feed and bathe together generally away from the hurly burly of the rest of the Park’s herd.
Initially she was quite reticent at mealtimes when offered a bunch of bananas she would spit them out. It is probable that she had only ever been given single bananas while at the trekking camp but, within a week at her new home, she had cast aside that unnatural behaviour and was consuming bunches and bunches of soft bananas and eating ravenously. She is putting on weight around her rib cage, but it will take longer for her neck to fill out and even longer, if ever, along her spine.
Mae Bia particularly loves bath time and heads straight for the deepest part of the river where she appears to delight in fully submerging her head, allowing the current to flow all around her. Once she has finished she spends a long time on the bank thoroughly dusting herself before moving to her favourite tree for a lengthy scratching session!
This daily cleaning ritual, close attention from her mahout and a vastly improved diet are having a rejuvenating effect.
‘She was very nervous when she first arrived, Sheila told us, ‘but everyday I watched her grow in confidence.?
A visit by Lek’s team to check on Mae Bia’s health revealed her condition had deteriorated dramatically. She had lost a lot of weight and being tired and weak was refusing to work properly. This behaviour was punished by abusive beatings. Lek discovered wounds around her head and neck where she had been beaten with the ankus.
Deeply appalled, Lek put out a call for help and EleAid supporters Michael and Sheila Medlar came to the rescue. Deeply concerned for Mae Bia’s welfare they immediately offered all the money required and EleAid was able to give Lek the go ahead to rescue Mae Bia from her tormented situation.
On the 16th October Lek and her team arrived with a truck to transport Mae Bia to the safety of the Elephant Nature Park where she was reunited with her old friend and fellow golden age elephant Mae Tong Bai. Together they will be able to enjoy a secure retirement.
In 1998 Mae Bia was purchased by a tourist camp in Chiang Rai. She was employed chiefly as a trekking elephant giving rides to tourists in the nearby hills and forests. This can be hard work especially for an elephant of advanced years and in July 2005 the camp telephoned Lek and explained that she was too old for the work and they wanted to sell her into retirement.
Lek visited the camp and inspected Mae Bia and found that she was in reasonable condition for an elephant of her age. At that time she did not have the funds available to purchase Mae Bia but added her to a watch list to monitor her condition.
1920’s – 1998
Details of this major period of Mae Bia’s life are very sketchy and we know almost nothing of this main part of her life. We speculate that like many Burmese and Thai elephants she worked in the timber trade skidding felled logs. Many thousands of domesticated elephants in Thailand and Burma were employed in this manner or in other task surrounding the timber trade such as transportation.
Movement of elephants between the two countries was quite common especially prior to the 1950?s when some timber companies operated on both sides of the border. At some stage Mae Bia crossed to Thailand and has remained since.
According to her registration papers Mae Bia was born in Burma in 1920! This is a grand old age for an Asian elephant as the average life expectancy is closer to 70 years. EleAid suspects that at some time in her life Mae Bia?s papers were switched, a practice that historically has been quite widespread in Thailand and Burma.
Apparently her name refers to a cobra although we have been unable to find out why. Maybe something about her trunk brought the name to her first owners mind or maybe Mae Bia’s early life featured some kind of incident with one of Asia?s most venomous snakes?