Elephants are incredibly friendly animals. In the wild they tend to live with their family members and form incredible bonds with friends that last a lifetime. The largest herd at Samui Elephant Haven is currently of five elephants: three children and two nannies. All herds have a matriarchal head who is an older, experienced female. At the Haven, Sudurat heads up the family unit and observes her youngsters with a keen eye. This unique group communicate with each other with trumpets, rumbles, through play and by using their trunks to touch each other and express care or concern. Guests are invited to sit back and watch them interact with each other with no human interaction.
Moloair and I are inseparable
“Hello, you’ll probably best know me as the cheeky one or the diva. I’m Nong Pech. I was born on Koh Samui island in 2012, so I’m still pretty young. I was with my mum, Somboon, until some people took me to Surin in the north-east of Thailand to become a street beggar; just like Sorn Ram. It’s such a hard job for a baby elephant; I’d walk on hot pavements all day long, amongst smelly traffic, beeping horns and impatient people; often feeling very hungry and of course, missing my mum. One horrible day I took a tumble and fell down a deep drain and was injured. Maew rescued me and took me to his sanctuary in Surin, where I spent the next two years recovering from my horrific injuries.
It was in Maew’s sanctuary that I met my best friend Moloair, we are inseparable, and I lead her astray sometimes. Maew shakes his head in amusement, but really he is just happy to see me having fun and enjoying life again.
We all moved to our beautiful island where we now live in Samui Elephant Haven. You might remember seeing in the news in May 2019, that my mum and Sri Nuan walked from the south of the island to the north where we all are now. I was so happy to see her again; I also love Moloair and our nannies too. Sometimes I feel that I split my loyalties between them all. Kwan Samui recently joined our herd; we are now ‘triple-trouble’”.
“I’m Moloair, and I’m a bit of a sensitive girl. You see, even though I’m still really young, I didn’t have the best upbringing, and I have a large hole at the end of my trunk which makes me spill water, and I have a lisp when I trumpet. I don’t like having my trunk touched, so please understand if I seem a little stand-offish when you visit.
It was in 2016 that I was rescued and transported to Maew’s first-ever sanctuary in Surin. I was nervous and distressed, and I cried every day for a long time. My best friend, Nong Pech always tried to comfort me, but I would push her away. I’d never had a friend before. Nong Pech was persistent, and I finally relented; now we have such a special bond which grows stronger every day. Kwan Samui came to us in 2019; she reminded me of me when I was scared and alone, so she was welcomed, and is now part of our girl-trio. The three of us are looked after by Sri Nin”.
I spend my days happily with my best friend Nong Pech and nanny Sri Nin
I love my new found freedom and being a nanny
“Sri Nin here! I’m the oldest elephant at Samui Elephant Haven; I am thought to have been born in 1967 in Ranong, which is a small province in southern Thailand. For as long as I can remember, I was used as ‘machinery’ in the logging industry; endlessly dragging and pushing heavy teak wood trunks and logs. In 1989 the Thai government banned elephants in the logging trade. We all thought that this was great news until we started walking for endless miles carrying tourists on our backs. I was moved to Koh Samui by truck in 1999 where I continued to work in tourist-trekking.
I’m a pretty stubborn old lady and sometimes when I used to get tired, I’d dig my heels in and do not follow commands graciously. I am blind in one eye and as a result of this injury, I can be easily startled and have a nervous disposition. When you come and visit me; you’ll also see that the end of my tail is missing: it was bitten off by another elephant when I was young. Not having ‘tail hair’ makes it very difficult swatting away those pesky flies.
Sudarat has probably already told you that she pretends she doesn’t like me very much, well that’s OK because I get to be nanny to all three babies in our little herd. I enjoy living at the Haven very much and love all of the beautiful things that Maew does for us. Have you seen our new swimming pool? I think it’s the best infinity pool on the island! Lucky us”.
“My name is Sudarat and am the boss of Samui Elephant Haven. I’m 45 years old and have had a long and tiring life already; in fact, it has been exhausting. I hobble around like a little old lady because I have a knee injury, hence my nickname Nanny!
My story starts when I was a logging elephant based in the north of Thailand close to Chiang Mai. Later, I moved to Pattaya, where I carried tourists on my back for up to 60 trips a day walking on hot concrete. The chair we carried weighed 500kg. During my time logging and in Pattaya, I was forced to sleep standing up; there were too many rocks and stones to make a comfortable bed for me. I weigh four tonnes and would find it very hard to get up in the morning.
I am one of two cantankerous ladies that look after our herd: the other is known as Grandma. I pretend that I don’t like her, but I do have a secret soft spot for her. I adore the fact that we look after the growing number of babies that are being rescued and added to the herd.
You’ll notice when you are here, that I will stand at the side of the pool keeping a watchful eye over the babies playing in the water. I’ll run to them if they trumpet and bang my truck on the ground if I get worried about them; I am very protective. When the babies get out of the water and cover themselves in mud, I like to play with my hanging tyre! Maew kindly orders soft sand and makes a comfortable bank for me so that I can now sleep lying down”.
I am the boss of Samui Elephant Haven
I’m a bit of a ‘Jack the Lad’
“I’m Plai Bang; this means ‘boy elephant’ in Thai. I’m a bit of a ‘Jack the Lad’, well, I used to be until it got me into trouble. You see, I was taken from my mother when I was only two years old. All-day long, I walked up and down the beach at a hotel, only stopping to have my photograph taken and to be fed watermelon and bananas.
By the time I was six, I was too big to be cute, so I moved to a riding camp where I would spend my days carrying people in a big chair. It was here that I used my wit and learned how to beg. I became that sweet little boy again making chirping sounds: the tourists loved this and fed me! I still do it now when I feel cheeky.
As I grew up, I felt empty because I missed my mother, and I started to go through musth, which is the equivalent of puberty in elephants. Only boy elephants go through this, and we can become aggressive for months. I’d challenge the other elephants and one day, I got into a horrible fight and really hurt two of my friends. My behaviour led me to be chained-up for five years. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I became sad at life; I lashed out, I threw things at people and generally became unpredictable. I was so stressed that I would spend much of my day swinging my head. Did you know that this is a sign of a very depressed and unhappy elephant?
Maew and the team at the Samui Elephant Haven decided that they would try and help me. Noi became my new mahout, and he is very patient with me, he has taught me a lot, and I know that he loves me: and I’ve calmed down and stopped swaying. They plan to provide me with a new enclosure of almost two acres, but they need to develop virtually half a kilometre of steel-reinforced concrete pillars to keep me safe. This costs a lot of money. I am 27 years old now and have the most spectacular tusks that cross over at the end”.
“I’m Perm Poon, and I am a big two! Aom is my mummy, and we spend all of our time together. She is very protective of me, so I can’t go and play with the bigger babies. I hope one day when I am more growed up; I can. It looks like they have lot’s of fun together. I am naughty. I still suckle milk from my mum and sometimes I suck on my trunk – just like a baby human sucks on their thumb.
Mummy and I used to work at a riding camp in Koh Samui. She would carry tourists all day long on her back in a big metal chair and try and keep my spirits up; I had to walk beside her all day. All-day is such a long way for such little legs.
In March 2019, Maew came with a big truck to rescue us both. Mummy wouldn’t leave me and get on the back of the truck because she was scared that she’d lose me. So, in the end, we walked across the island together to our new home at the Haven. We were welcomed by lots of trumpets from the other elephants. We are very happy here and love being together. I love teasing mummy with water from the hosepipe the best; I’m getting to be quite the expert. Mummy is 30 years old and my big sister is called Kwan Samui; she is here with us too”.
I’m Perm Poon, and I am a big two and Aom is my mummy
I’m was rescued from trekking
“My name is Sorn Ram. I was born and raised in the north of Thailand. I started my life in the teak wood logging trade where we would push, pull and roll big logs all day long, the job was risky; especially for a baby elephant who didn’t listen!
When we are little, we like to play, you’ll see in my right ear that I have quite a big hole, our ears are one of the most sensitive parts of our bodies. One day, I moved to the Surin Province of Thailand, where I was forced to beg on the streets for money.
When I was 30 years old, and just after my birthday I was relocated again to Koh Samui, a beautiful island with fantastic jungle and coconut plantations. It was much easier on my feet than boiling-hot pavements, but I had to carry a heavy metal chair and tourists every day. I thought my life was going to get better, but for ten years I walked the same route time and time again, come rain or shine. During this time, I injured my leg, and it got infected. I did have vets come and see me at the riding camp, but I needed long term care for it to get better.
Maew heard of my sad life and my injuries and took me with him to Samui Elephant Haven when I was 45 years old. I haven’t been here long, and I’m still settling in. My mahout at the Haven is looking after me very well, and my wound is getting a lot better; it isn’t as painful as before. The whole team is very caring, and so far, I like it here. I can sleep peacefully for the first time in my life on my big sand pile. Thank you all for rescuing me and for bringing me ‘home’”.
“My name is Somboon; you’ll all know me as the elephant that, with Sri Nuan marched the ‘Walk to Freedom in May 2019. I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. It’s lovely knowing that he is born into complete freedom. We still haven’t found a name for him yet. He’s stolen a little piece of everyone’s hearts.
My first baby was Nong Pech; she is here at Samui Elephant Haven as well. It was overwhelming to see her again. She was taken from me when she was only two years old and was forced into street begging in the Surin province. One day she made an awful tumble and fell down a deep drain and was injured so severely it took her two years to recover. Because we were separated, I knew nothing of this until we met again. My heart broke into a million pieces when I knew that she had to endure this alone. We often talk late into the night.
Most of my life, I’ve been used for trekking with heavy metal chairs on my back. I’ve walked thousands of miles along the same pathways over the years. At night we were always chained-up in the woods so that we didn’t escape. I’d get scared by noises quite easily; the woods get spooky and dark at night. If there are loud noises or something I don’t understand, I try and run to somewhere safe. Perhaps I need a night light.
I can’t wait to join the herd with my baby. Maew is keeping us both safe at the moment, but we will join the herd very soon. Sudarat is very excited about being ‘nanny’ to my newborn; she keeps trying to pinch him. I have to sleep with one eye open! I’m 30 years old now”.
I’ve just had a beautiful baby boy
I need special food as I only have one tooth
“Hello, I’m Sri Nuan. I was with Somboon when we walked across the island to freedom. It was a long walk for a sick old lady. The procession had to keep stopping so that I could rest. At about the halfway point, the vet had to come and see me and give me a drip because I was so dehydrated. We did eventually make it.
I’ve spent my entire life working and not being looked after properly. For many years I was in the logging industry, hauling massive teak logs out of the forests in the northern region of Thailand. I didn’t like it. In 1989 elephant logging was banned in Thailand, which we all thought was great news, until we were forced to carry tourists in heavy chairs every day.
I came to Koh Samui about ten years ago when I was 40 years old, where I continued to trek with the tourists. It was during this time that I met Maew. He promised me that one day, he would rescue me from trekking and that I would be free. He kept his promise. I’ve had so many horrible things happen to me, I’ve shut much of my life away so that I don’t have to think about it all. I know that I don’t get on well with other grown-up elephants, but I do love the babies. I’m so happy that Somboon’s baby has been born.
They keep me in an enclosure because I try and fight with the other elephants. I don’t want to, but I just can’t help it. My mahout has to prepare food for me every day. I only have one tooth left, so I struggle to eat, which leads to indigestion problems. I have minced watermelon, bananas and leaves. It’s much more beautiful being at the Haven where I can rest and sleep well for the first time. It’s a joy seeing Kwan Samui, Moloair and Nong Pech play together, I feel happy when I watch them”.
“I’m naughty. My name is Kwan Samui which means ‘good luck Samui’. I was born in 2011, so I am eight. My mummy is called Aom, and she lives in Samui Elephant Haven as well, but she lives in the hilly bit with Perm Poon, my little brother. He’s really lucky because he is still with our mummy. I was taken from her when I was the same age as Perm Poon, so you can see how little I was. I am very happy for him though. He’s a nice little brother. When they come to the pools I watch him play in the water.
I was too little to leave my mummy and was made to stand still for many hours at a time, in the rain and the sunshine. I quite liked the rain; it was refreshing for my skin. As you probably know, elephants have sensitive skin, and we need to use mud as sunscreen. Because I had to stand still all day, I had nothing to take my mind from thoughts of my mummy, and my heart was sad because I missed her so much. I used to get so distressed; I would sway my head from side to side. I still do this now, but not as much.
One day Maew came to rescue me. I liked him and trusted him straight away. He didn’t have a nasty bullhook, just lots of bananas. We got to the Haven when the stars were shining, and my new mahout put me in a beautiful sleeping enclosure for the night. I was scared, of course, everything smelled different, and the other elephants were trumpeting at me, and my mahout stayed close.
The next morning, Maew came to see me, and he introduced me to the herd. All of them were touching me with their trunks and reassuring me; it was quite tickly though. I remember there was one loud noise, and I tried to run away, but they calmed me down quickly. That afternoon I went for my very first swim. It was lovely and cool. Nong Pech, Moloair and I are always together, and I love them very much. Maew laughs at us all, so we give him kisses on his head”.
I’m the best big sister
I have been born into freedom
I am the first baby to be born at Samui Elephant Haven, I was born under the last full moon of the decade and on Friday 13; these things make me very lucky. I am a little boy and my mum is Somboon. She is great! There have been so many people to come and see me at the Haven; I can’t remember everyone’s name. Every day I learn something new, which is exciting for me. Follow me growing up on social media and in our blog!