{Sawatdee, Thailand!} Of clever changs & the story of baby Mosha

Screen Shot 2013 09 04 at 8.47.21 PM - {Sawatdee, Thailand!} Of clever changs & the story of baby Mosha

I’ve always felt that elephants are given less credit and attention than they should be. A lot of cartoons depict them as giant dim-witted oafs, and they are anything but! It’s actually quite insulting to how intelligent they truly are. Elephants are amazing creatures. They have eyes that look either somber or all-knowing, but after seeing the elephants or changs in this camp, I would add ‘mischievously sparkling’ to that list of descriptions.

changs are love!

I have to admit, I seem to have a soft spot for elephants, which is why I was having second thoughts about visiting this elephant camp when my Dad told me we were going to ride on them. I feel really bad about putting anything heavy on their backs, even though I’m certain the seats plus three people would probably weigh like a saddle on a horse to a ginormous elephant. I mean, he was chewing some leaves nonchalantly while carrying us on his back for Pete’s sake! I don’t know, it just makes me feel bad.

The Maetaman Elephant Camp is located about an hour away from downtown Chiang Mai. Going into the camp, I can see that the grounds are kept as close to as natural a habitat as possible for the elephants. They have a river to take their baths in, and an area to rest and dine in without needing to be chained. The babies are kept in a large pen with low railings, taken care of by their mothers.

Maetman Elephant Camp

The camp is also a place where one can take a ride around the compound on an ox-cart (or like what we did, take an ox-cart to one end of the camp and ride an elephant back).

The roads

Boatmen may also take you for a leisurely raft-ride on the river (same place the elephants shower in), where you can appreciate the serenity and beauty of nature.

The rafts


The stars of this place are really the elephants though. Each elephant is assigned a caretaker or trainer with whom they respond rather familiarly to. This is the same person they are constantly with whether on the elephant show, for tourist photos, or when they take guests for rides on their backs; they are the elephants’ partners in all that they do. 

Some caretakers are more gentle than others, but you can really see the bond between them, especially with the tandem my brother and I got when we rode one of the elephants around the compound. I could see it by how the trainer feeds his elephant, and how he playfully pushes away its trunk when the elephants teasingly reaches out for more food. There was this one time the elephant suddenly deviated away from the path and swiftly grabbed a trunkful of stalks and leaves from a food bin. The trainer clucked his tongue to show his displeasure, and the elephant sounded off softly in response.

Whatever message it was that passed between them, it wasn’t until the trainer grunted in consent that the elephant proceeded to put the food in his mouth. It’s quite charming really, this friendship that to me is a bit reminiscent of a dolphin’s relationship with its trainer. Perhaps this is why I have such love for these two animals.

When the elephant show began, the elephants started showing off some usual tricks: balancing their trainers on their trunks, their legs, bowing when they were being applauded.

Welcome wagon

It got really interesting when they began playing volleyball though, and then football (look how big the ball is relative to a person in the photo below)! The most fun part was when the elephant was getting ready to take a free-kick, approaching the ball with one leg poised. One of the head trainers was the goalkeeper, and every time the elephant approached the ball for what seemingly was about to be a kick, he would fake the trainer-goalkeeper out. I know it’s scripted into the programme, but it was so cute to watch!

Elephant's clever tricks
After the footballing was over, the elephant picked up the head trainer’s straw hat and put it back on his head, tapping his head as if to say, “Be good!”. Then the elephant proceeded to give the head trainer a real Thai massage. I imagine I would be a bit terrified of being squashed flat lying there! 😛

Now here my absolute favourite part without a doubt: when the elephants began walking around with their little painter’s toolboxes. I did not know what to expect. I mean I knew they were going to be painting, but how? With the help of their trainers perhaps? Amazingly, they received no help at all and yet they managed to create these brilliant paintings!

elephant paintings!
As an artist myself, I really do appreciate things like these the most. And really, how can you not be impressed when you witness these elephants painting these things with your own two eyes, using only their trunks and blank pieces of paper?!


There is this one little place inside the camp called The Colour Factory, where many miniature replicas of ceramic elephants painted by famous artists around the world are displayed. They are sold for about 1,000 Baht or more, with 20% of the proceeds going to The Asian Elephant Foundation. Originally, bigger life-sized versions of these ceramic elephants are painted for the Elephant Parade, a financial support organisation for the Asian elephants, a species now being threatened with extinction. The cities chosen to host the parade are well-known and iconic ones, such as Copenhagen, London and most recently, Singapore.

With the help of the artists and their colours, whenever they put these lovely works of art on the Elephant Parade, it never fails to generate some buzz, and therefore raise the issue of the elephant species’ extinction to the public’s attention. After the parade, the painted elephants are then auctioned off, with again part of the proceeds going to the cause.

To date, it has raised a whopping 4 million Euros, and although this has managed to save many Asian elephants, more are in need of help. There are a lot of beautifully designed elephants being sold, and the miniature ones are almost exact replicas of the originals. That’s why I’m sure one would not have much trouble choosing a design should one be interested to contribute to this cause. Just in case one has too many favourites, The Colour Factory offers an artist set with a blank ceramic elephant, ready for you to take the brush and play artist. Part of the proceeds upon purchasing this set will also go to the cause.

Many of the people who visit The Colour Factory leave messages in different colours and languages on their elephant “message board” (I spotted some Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese, aside from English and Thai). Looking around the large ceramic elephant, I can’t help beat feel my heart warmed by all the things people say. Some of them are brief, generic messages, possibly written just for the fun of it; but some of the messages are actually quite meaningful. My favourite is the drawing hugging the trunk of the elephant (right photo, below). I wonder how the staff felt seeing the elephant getting filled with each day that passed. Must’ve been something! As you can see on the picture below, there have been quite a few visitors, with messages like: “I love you, Chang!”, or “Continue the fight for the elephants!”, and “I love you, Mosha!”

Mosha's story

Which brings us to the topic of Mosha, an elephant who survived a landmine explosion while walking about in a forest in Thailand. Less than 3 years old at the time, although coming out unscathed for the most part, one of Mosha’s front legs was blown off. After this incident was brought to the attention of Ms. Soraida Salwala, the founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE– the World’s first Elephant Hospital), Salwala quickly engaged the services of doctors with the plan to fit then-baby Mosha with a prosthetic leg.

After successfully attaching one in 2007, Mosha became the world’s first pachyderm to be fitted with a prosthetic limb. Media attention given to this also helped raise awareness among the masses about the harm being caused to an almost extinct species of Asian animals. As the story goes, baby Mosha was at first hesitant to walk on the new leg, but once warmed up to it, Mosha had began playing about and falling back to normal behaviour.

A few years later, the fast-growing Mosha has been fitted with at least three different prosthetic legs, adjusted to size. Mosha has also been joined by other elephant friends, a famous one of which is named Motala, that have suffered the same fate but were given a chance to walk again. Such an inspirational story for such a great cause!

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1 Comment

  1. Just a passerby
    20 October, 2014

    Hi again. I replied your blog yesterday. This morning, just a few minutes ago, I got some good news from my friend’s FB about Motala.


    Brief description: Can you remember Motala? She is 53 years old with good health. Fine and happy. You can visit her at Elephant Hospital, Lampang province, Thailand


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