This soulful and sociable elephant is named Mae Dok.
Mae Dok is nearly 60 years old and she’s spent her entire life in a small town in Thailand, where she was an attraction for tourists.
Mae Dok spent years standing by a small bridge, begging for treats.
Now that’s her old life. It’s “the life she can put behind her,” according to Emily McWilliam, cofounder and manager of Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “Never to stand and beg for sweets under the bridge in the touristic village again,” McWilliam told The Dodo.
Just last week, as Mae Dok was taking a dip in a small stream in the village, she had no reason to believe that her whole life was about to change.
But rescuers from BEES were standing by, taking pictures of her last day in that village. If you look closely, you can spot the chain draped over her back, as if a symbol of the old life.
“She was chained on a long chain in an overgrown farm on the edge of her home village, munching on grasses and splashing with mud,” BEES wrote. “Her family came to visit her throughout the day to say goodbye and it was so touching to see how affected members of the family were by Mae Dok’s presence over the years and how lovingly they said goodbye and gave her banana offerings … They told us many beautiful stories and spoke of how sweet Mae Dok is.”
Then it was time. Mae Dok, the wise, elderly animal people loved enough to set free, was about to be loaded onto a truck.
As beloved as Mae Dok was, the people who loved her knew she deserved better, especially as she got older. It was time for Mae Dok to retire.
But Mae Dok had never left that small town in her whole life. “We were not sure if she would get on the truck,” BEES wrote. “Mae Dok hesitated and stood at the back of the truck for some time vocalizing and reluctant to lift her feet.”
Some of the people who had taken care of Mae Dok gently encouraged her to leave. “Mae Dok eventually lifted her legs up onto the truck and slowly edged forward,” BEES wrote.
As the truck was getting ready to pull away, a member of the rescue team held the tip of her trunk to communicate that everything was OK — and everything was about to get even better.
As Mae Dok’s journey continued, rescuers started to get to know her better. They realized that the stories the locals from the village had told about her were definitely true: Mae Dok loved to chat.
“She likes to chirp and grumble even with no other elephants around,” BEES wrote. “She is a very talkative elephant.”
After a seven-hour drive, Mae Dok arrived at the sanctuary and stepped out of the truck onto the fresh grass.
“She stepped down off the truck a little wobbly, her legs were quite stiff. The chain was removed and Mae Dok vocalized with low grumbles as she made her way down to the grass field,” BEES wrote. “We gave her a spray-down with the hose. We then let her explore and followed her lead, allowing her space to take in her new home.”
When Mae Dok spotted another rescued elephant she got very excited — perhaps this would be someone new to talk to! — but the other elephant was taken aback by the presence of someone new.
“Mae Dok was very very interested, but hesitant to step forward. Thong Dee was very anxious and hesitant also,” BEES wrote. “Thong Dee flared her ears and … moved quickly past Mae Dok at a distance. Mae Dok still directing her trunk towards Thong Dee made deep vocalizations. Thong Dee did stop momentarily and looked back at Mae Dok with her ears and eyes wide open and then continued on.”
Making friends isn’t always easy, but Mae Dok went on her way and continued to explore.
She paused for a brief nap and, upon waking, that’s when she spotted another elephant in the distance, Mae Kam, a little farther upstream.
This time, there was chemistry.
“Mae Kam approached slowly … We didn’t hear any sounds from Mae Kam to begin with, it appeared she was a bit nervous and seemed to want to get past, but as Mae Dok wouldn’t move, she retreated,” BEES wrote. “She then stopped and turned back again as if to realize, ‘Hang on, I need to go that way for my afternoon treats.'”
Mae Kam seemed unsure of what to do with this big new elephant standing right in front of her. The new lady, Mae Dok, decided that the best thing to do was to just start talking. “Mae Dok, still vocalizing and sniffing towards her, decided to take the next move,” BEES wrote. “She took a large step forward and reached out to Mae Kam. Then the most incredible, magical, unexpected display took place.”
The pair rested their heads right next to each other, and then started chatting back and forth.