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My Elephant, My Brother
ife in the jungle has been Surin “Eet” Jaitrong’s world since he fell in love with his first elephant at the age of 19.

As a mahout – or elephant caretaker – in the southern Thai province of Phang-nga, Jaitrong grew up living with elephants. Today, at age 45, he lives a fulfilling life caring for Plai Gaew, a 48-year-old male elephant.

Each morning, Jaitrong treks out to the forest to bring Plai Gaew in for a scrub bath and a day of tourist rides. When the sun fades, Jaitrong returns Plai Gaew to his jungle home that sustains him with food, medicinal plants and boundless freedom.

Because of their unique bond, Plai Gaew is not just Jaitrong’s elephant. Together, they are supporting each other as family.

 


     
History Asian Elephants

Considered by many as the national symbol of Thailand, elephants hold an important role in Thai history. Noted for their intelligence, incredible memory and pleasant nature, Asian elephants have been used in ancient warfare, commercial logging and, more recently, tourism.

An elephant’s body is built for life in a tropical jungle. Their ears radiate heat while their trunk is actually a long nose used for smelling, breathing, drinking, grabbing and finding food – all done using 100,000 different muscles. Each day in the forest, they scrounge up an average of 300 to 500 pounds of food including roots, bamboo, fruits and even medicinal plants when needed.

Adult males (bulls) tend to roam the wild on their own while female elephants (cows) live in family herds with their young. If a female is emotionally stable and healthy, she will conceive one calf every two to four years, carrying her young longer than any other mammal with a gestation period lasting up to 22 months. At birth, calves weigh an average of 200 pounds and stand approximately 3 feet tall.

One Thai legend compares marriage to an elephant, with the husband representing the front legs that choose direction and the wife representing the back legs for power. It is one of the reasons elephants are one of Thailand’s greatest symbols because locals believe that these creatures grant wealth and good fortune.

Fun Box Story of the Mahout
The following story was told by Surin "Eet" Jaitrong, a Thai mahout...

There was the god [named] Phra Uchaentara. He disguised himself as a human.

During ancient times, elephants could talk. There was one black tusk elephant that was very mean and wicked.

The way Phra Uchaentara became famous for being a good mahout is that he challenged the elephant to a duel. But he disguised himself as an old man and waited for the black tusk elephant at the edge of the jungle.

When the elephant came out of the jungle and saw him, the elephant asked, “Uncle, where can I find Phra Uchaentara’s house?” Phra Uchaentara told him the way but said that to show him, he had to let him ride on the elephant’s neck. When Phra Uchaentara got on the elephant’s neck, he directed him into sinking mud but told him to continue on. Finally the elephant said he couldn’t stand it anymore. He was too deep in the mud.

Phra Uchaentara said, “It’s just another distance equivalent to the length of your body.” When the elephant walked that length, Phra Uchaentara started destroying the elephant. He beat him into submission.

So Phra Uchaentara became the wise one. Then he revealed himself to the elephant and told him that he was Phra Uchaentara that had challenged him to the duel. The elephant said he gave up and would not fight anymore and asked Phra Uchaentara to take him out of the mud.

Phra Uchaentara agreed. So he cut down a log and walked him out. That is the story behind the mahout.

Comparing Elephants

The following images show the difference between Asian and African elephants...


Asian Elephant Head


African Elephant Head


Asian Elephant Body


African Elephant Body
 
     
     
 

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