The rains brought their challenges, but also brought beauty. The grasses are growing and the trees that we planted earlier in the year are beginning to take root. Of particular joy is the way that the lotus has flourished. Under the guidance of P’Jinda we planted pink and white lotus plants in the ponds at Ban Ton Sae to enhance the environment making it a very Thai experience.

The lotus (bua in Thai) is important in the everyday life of the Thai people and is the traditional flower of Buddhism. Legend has it that when the Lord Buddha took his first steps, lotus blooms opened up to cushion the soles of his feet. With its roots in the mud, the plant rises above the dirty water to yield a flower of perfect beauty and purity. Indeed, for Buddhists, the flower stands for pureness of spirit and the flowers are widely used as offerings at shrines, in spirit houses and in the temple.

However, the lotus has many other uses. The roots, petals and stamens of some varieties are used by herbalists to treat a variety of complaints from fainting attacks to acne, and from the lowering of blood cholesterol to stomach upsets.  In fact, most of the lotus plant is edible. Some people will eat the raw seeds, others might boil up the dried seeds in syrup as a popular drink; moreover, the roots can be mixed with pork to make a delicious soup, and the leaves and stems of some species can be used in salads. The leaves are also used to wrap steamed rice, giving it a mild lotus fragrance; when fresh, the lotus leaves are useful as (biodegradable) wrappers. In the old days, dried lotus petals were used to roll cigarettes.

The lotus is undeniably beautiful and adds charm to the surroundings. We want the lotus to be visible part of our Thai world at Ban Ton Sae, where the Thai culture must never be forgotten.

For several decades, palm oil cultivation on a commercial scale in some south-east Asian countries has resulted in a very serious impact on the natural environment, causing widespread deforestation and loss of natural habitat and threatening critically endangered species such as the Asian elephant, orangutan, Sumatran tiger, gibbons, hornbills, and other organisms that are trying to survive in the wild.

Oil palms have been harvested by humans for over 5,000 years and palm oil has even been found in a tomb in Ancient Egypt dating back to 3,000 BC. But it was in the 19th century that palm oil suddenly became widely used in Europe and America as an industrial lubricant and cooking oil, and as the basis of many famous household products ranging from soap and toothpaste to ink and pizza dough. The oil comes from the red pulp of the fruits which are small and oval and grow in clusters of several hundred, close to the trunk on short heavy stalks. The fruit is black and red when ripe, and is fibrous and oily around a white kernel that is also rich in oils.

Because the oil palm trees produce fruit continuously throughout the year, with new bunches ripening each month, the fruit is always in season. A very sharp knife is used to cut off the fruit bunches. As the tree grows, it develops a very thick, distinctive scaly trunk, and large spreading crowns.

Nowadays in Thailand most of the oil palms are cultivated on smallholdings that practice sustainable cultivation. The picture is not so rosy in some other countries but at last big companies are coming under a lot of international pressure to ensure their palm oil production is sustainable. In some places, farmers, whose lives depend on the crops, will try to discourage elephants from eating their plantations and in extreme cases may even try to poison them.

Please help us in our education mission. Your donation, however small, is seriously important to us. If you can, please click here.

Elephants are the most well-known animal in the animal kingdom and, like horses, have been used by humans for thousands of years. As long as elephants have been cared for by humans, their health care has been of great importance. Sanskrit literature is rich in systematic studies in elephantology and the first known treatise on elephant health was written over 2000 years ago. One of the most famous veterinary books was written in 1910 by Lieut.-Colonel G. H. Evans, Superintendent of the Civil Veterinary Department, Burma.

Today there are some very good and experienced elephant veterinarians in Thailand and around the world, but they are few and far between. Thailand has am number of dedicated elephant veterinary hospitals but there is only one in the South located between Krabi and Trang and about 100 miles from our Ban Ton Sae site. It is good to know this centre exists but in an emergency it would be wonderful to have a clinic nearer to hand.

As part of our plans for Ban Ton Sae we plan an elephant health centre, not only to help our elephants, but also to serve the community for many miles around. It will be the only one of its kind in the area that specialises in the health and well being of the Asian elephant. This  building is therefore one of the most important to be built at the Ban Ton Sae site.

So far, we have been able to clear the ground and level it ready for the foundations to be laid. We will make progress as and when we have the funds to move to the next step.

The clinic will have all that is needed for the loading and unloading of elephants, their treatment and sedation, as well as recovery and isolation units.  A full time elephant veterinarian and vet nurses will be employed to ensure the best quality of care.

As an education centre, we will provide mahouts with basic basic care training and will welcome veterinary students as part of their extramural studies.

We will be launching an appeal for the veterinary centre soon and will need your help to reach our targets.

Please consider showing you support NOW through a donation by clicking here to help us through the design and planning stages for this important centre.

STEF’s Mission is to promote “the ethical treatment, and high health and welfare standards for the Asian elephant in Thailand” but also “to raise awareness of the elephant, and its welfare needs, through education and to encourage human-elephant interaction.”

 

Education is the corner-stone to all good animal welfare.

In our new facility, we will have elephants of course but we will also be there to educate – not only visitors but also Thais – especially children, people with special needs and all who want to learn more about the Asian elephant and its importance in Thai culture.

Our plan is to start with a small Education Centre at the Ban Ton Sae site. We need to raise the money for this of course, but so far we have been able to make a small start and level the ground ready for foundations to be laid

The Education Centre will include a variety of educational materials for all to enjoy and learn about elephants. One of the features will be a real Asian elephant skeleton, revealing the inner workings and amazing skeletal structure of this magnificent animal, and to demonstrate how they are perfectly adapted to life in the jungles of Thailand. We will also have models to explain the history of Thailand’s elephant populations as well as information boards and teaching aids, alongside our own guides.

Threats to wild elephants and conservation efforts surrounding the worlds largest land mammal will also feature in the education centre, along with ideas focusing on what we can ALL do wherever we are to help protect the elephant and its native habitat.

We truly want the STEF Education Centre  to be enjoyed by anyone visiting the site and to be an education hub for local schools and for students studying animal care, welfare, conservation and the veterinary sciences. Professional or aspiring vets, vet nurses and mahouts will always be welcome.

To thank all of our donors, we will include a board of plaques commemorating everyone who contributes to the building and running of STEF to give the elephants of Thailand a place to call home.

If you would like to support STEF please click here to donate whatever you can, large or small. We value every baht.

 

 

From using solar panels to create clean renewable energy to using recycled rainwater to create our elephant pools, sustainability on the Ban Ton Sae site is one of the ways STEF will become a sustainable environmentally friendly haven for our elephants and guests to enjoy.

One of the ways STEF will ensure sustainability is to grow the food for the elephants on site. An area of land has already been sculpted for this purpose and as you can see from the picture (left), levels have been carved into the earth to create giant steps where rows of crops can grow and be rotated.

Deforestation is the biggest threat to the Asian elephant in the wild. Plantations for crops such as rubber and palm oil (products used widely in western countries) are one of the causes for the destruction of  elephant habitats. We have cleared all rubber trees from our site and by growing our own food for the elephants we can ensure this land is reused sustainably and no areas of primary forest are cut down to provide the crops.

We plan to grow bamboo and Napier grass (also known as elephant grass) to feed them on site but the elephants will also be taken into the forest to forage for themselves. Elephants need a range of foods to meet their dietary requirements and foraging encourages natural behaviours.

Why bamboo? Well bamboo (right) is classified as a grass, is extremely strong (big species are often seen being used as scaffolding on construction sites), and it is said to be the fastest growing plant on earth (some species grow up to 0.5m per day). It is sometimes called a ‘pioneer species’, as it creates humus-rich soils and so is of great value in forest habitats. Elephants are very fond of bamboo shoots, seedlings and leaves.

Elephant grass (above left) is a perennial forage crop that also has a fast growth rate, high productivity and has good nutritive value. It is a very good grass for cut and carry systems – and elephants, who do not just eat what is available, but actively choose what to eat, love it as you can see.

If you would like to help us feed our elephants and support sustainable reforestation you can sponsor a tree or area of grazing turf on our website by just clicking here.

 

 

 

Why raise money for electricity supply lines or diesel-powered generators when we have the sun?

Solar energy is green and clean and produces minimal harm to the environment.

STEF hopes that the Ban Ton Sae site can be powered completely by solar energy, maintaining the tranquility and naturalness of the elephants’ jungle home while providing electricity for essential needs such as water pumps and lighting. In Thailand, the sun is a wonderful source of energy. But as everyone knows, Thailand also has the rainy season for six months of the year although this must not deter us. Although heavy cloud cover will reduce the solar energy that reaches the ground, light still gets through the clouds and modern technology ensures that solar panels absorb both direct light and diffuse light.  After all, we wouldn’t be able to see anything on a cloudy day if light wasn’t getting through!

Actually, rain is quite helpful with solar panels as it washes away dirt and debris such as bird droppings, leaves and pollen that otherwise would cover the panels and reduce efficiency.

So, we have decided to plan for a solar energy source at the new elephant centre. We are sure this will be so much better than the expensive and environmentally disturbing erection of power lines from the mains electricity grid which is several miles away. The panels will have virtually no impact on the natural wildlife and their use will help us to minimise our carbon footprint. Producing our own energy in-house will also reduce reliance on third parties, helping us to be sustainably self-sufficient. In any case, the grid can be rather unreliable in the monsoon rain with frequent power cuts!

With an average of over eight hours of strong sunshine every day between November and April, we think we have the potential to produce more than enough energy required for our needs.

This is a hugely exciting prospect and we have already started to survey the site to identify the best location for the panels – they must be on high ground to get the most sunlight during the day, and solar batteries will store the excess energy generated for use at night.

Of course all of this will cost a lot of money and we will be asking our wonderful supporters to help us meet the costs of adopting this sustainable, clean energy solution for our work – and for our elephants. If you can, please help and donate just £10 by clicking here.

We’ve been working hard to devise more plans for the elephants’ new home, but there is so much more to be done! Keep an eye out for exciting new developments that will be revealed over the coming months on the website’s News page!

The rainy season in Thailand varies from region to region and  lasts from May to October. So we are only at the beginning now, but the short, sharp very heavy downpours do limit the construction and infrastructure work that we can do on our jungle site at Ban Ton Sae.  The intensity of the rain is notching up day-by-day as we head into the full swing of Southern Thailand’s monsoon months. Dark clouds appear with a strong warm wind, then a few heavy drops of rain warn you that you have only a few minutes to find cover before the skies open and rain belts down. You may be trapped in your shelter for 20-30 minutes but then the rain stops as suddenly as it started, the clouds disappear and the sun comes out. 

But the sheer volume of water that falls means that the tracks get muddy and waterlogged. Building works require dry conditions for laying foundations and work on the future education and visitor centres, as well as the elephant hospital will have to wait until later in the year.

The sheer magnitude of the rain can sometimes cause a minor flash flood on the site and we must always be mindful of this although the extensive site drainage that we installed earlier in the year should mitigate the risk. Flooding would threaten our newly planted grasses and could also affect the wonderful forest trees we have planted with your generous help,  so Jake is keeping a very close eye on things.

None of this affects elephants whose love of water also really does extend to the rains! Every water drop gives the elephant a cooling break from the relentless humid heat of Thailand’s tropical climate. As shown in the photos, elephants aren’t fazed at all by the monsoon rain, and embrace it with all its force. We can’t wait for STEF’s future elephants to be resting in the Park, enjoying the monsoon season.

However, there is silver lining behind all this rain as it has given us the opportunity to re-focus our attention on sharing STEF’s message of the need to help conserve the Asian elephant, and our STEF fundraising program. If you can help us, please sponsor one of trees at the Ban Ton Sae site to help us get the ecologically sensitive park that we need for the elephants. Just click here to sponsor a tree now!

All of the work on the new site over the past couple of months has somewhat overshadowed the progress of the new trees that we have planted. We’ve so far had great support for our Ban Ton Sae Tree Sponsorship scheme, enabling us to plant a further three more kampu trees (known as “Raintrees”), close to the planned area for the elephant hospital. Promisingly, since we’ve had more extensive irrigation installed up the banks, reaching a greater area of the site, each of these trees has leafed really well, even though the monsoon rains are not yet in full swing.

Elsewhere on site, our planting program has gathered momentum. With further dredging and profiling of the pools about to start, we are now planting water lilies around the edges of two of the pools to assist regeneration and to help reduce algae growth, giving the pool-life shelter from the rain and a place to lay eggs. Jake’s mother, Jinda, is using her gardening expertise to position the water lilies in the right place on the banks to ensure that they thrive.

Jinda’s wise guidance has been influential in helping us choose where to plant the yellow peanut plant (Arachis pintoi), a legume commonly used in pastures for soil improvement and conservation, that will furnish the banks of the entrance to the site with lush, natural greenery, reinforcing our aim of creating an ecologically-sensitive park, both in look and structure. The cuttings were hand-harvested by Jake at a local farm near Phang Nga town (see the photo top left).

We have room for many more trees to protect and enhance the life of our elephant family in the future and to encourage wildlife to settle.

Please help us by sponsoring a tree. Only £25 for a lifetime’s memory. Click here if you would like to be a permanent part of this exciting adventure.

Work on the pools has progressed really well over the last week. The trusty team of five from our chosen contractor, and the fantastic digger driver, speedily completed the planned work on the pools and cascade in just over 2 weeks.

Two of the pools have been dredged and re-profiled to ensure the water is revitalised, replacing the old, stagnant water that has been left untouched for years. This will encourage more pool life to thrive, as well as maintaining the fauna already in the pools like this gourami (we put it back after the photo was taken!).

The purpose of the re-profiling is to create a base around the pools for our planting program, and space for the rocky boulders we will move in to enhance the natural look of the pools. We are determined to maintain the eco-sensitive design of the site to ensure it is in keeping with our ecological ethos.

Creating an attractive area by the pools has the added benefit of providing our future elephants and visitors with a cool area by the water, and shade for them to relax. Visitors will be able to quietly enjoy watching the elephants roaming, feeding and bathing in their natural jungle surroundings.

Re-profiling will also help to reduce the risk of the water stagnation and inhibit growth of algae. The water supply will extend down to the elephant pool, where an outlet has been installed for a hosepipe so the resident mahouts will be able to shower the elephants before they enter the water to prevent the pool becoming silted up – elephants do love to play with dirt and sand, rolling in the mud in the rain, and throwing it on their backs to protect themselves from the sun. (Dirt sprays also stop those pesky mosquitoes and horseflies landing on the skin!)

Whilst there is still a lot to do, this week’s fantastic work on the pools, which are integral to the elephants’ welfare, highlights the excellent progress we are making. You can see more on Ollie’s helpful 24-second video clip:

Can you help us finish the job? Click here to help us get the site in the best condition for the elephants’ welfare….

Over the past few weeks, fourteen new trees have been planted at the STEF site. Each species of tree was carefully chosen to be eco-friendly, to benefit the site for the elephants, and to attract native wildlife.

Across the 16 rie (6.32 acres) that we are developing as an elephant facility (primarily for retired elephants and later for conservation), eight cherry trees have been planted adjacent to the three pools to provide seasonal colour, with their magnificent white and pink flowers adding to the overall beauty of the area while providing vital shade for the elephants.

In the north-east corner of the site, which is at an elevated level, and where the elephants and mahouts will reside, rain trees (Albizia saman) have been planted in order to create large areas of shade, which are important for the elephants to keep cool as they do not sweat through their skin. A rain tree grows in a dome shape with a spread of up to 20-30m wide, as well as reaching some 30m in height, providing the elephants with the perfect umbrella needed in Southern Thailand’s rainy season.

Finally, a Banyan tree was planted in the far north east corner of the site, next to the future location of the elephant hospital. The magnificent Banyan tree is not only beautifully alluring for visitors, and impressive in structure, but has cultural and spiritual significance to the area, as legend has it that a spirit is released when a Banyan tree falls and a replacement needs to be planted for the lost spirit to dwell. Workers at the site have claimed to see the mysterious spirit already and hold the newly planted sapling in high regard. Here is a photo of our existing old Banyan tree and you can just make out Jake’s head at the bottom of the picture standing below it’s vast trunk.

Can you help us with the costs of these wonderful trees that will survive for generations? If you can, please click here.The work of planting these new trees was completed by a team of only five, as well as one of our trustees, Jake, in the scorching heat just before the rainy season.

Ollie has a short video to show how the tree planting is going:

Come back next week, to read another blog post on the new site’s progress!