———— The Arrival of RaRa ————
Posted by Elephant Nature Foundation on December 17, 2009
RaRa (or LaLa LuLu) is one of the most troubled elephants to ever arrive at Elephant Nature Park. She is between 7 and 8 years old and was taken away from her mother when she was only one year old, which is not physically or mentally healthy for an elephant calf. She was then leased to a Sheraton hotel in Krabi. The well-meaning owners of this hotel had no idea of the negative side effects that living in isolation at the ocean-side hotel would cause RaRa.
From an uninformed outsider's view RaRa seemed to have a pretty good life, though she spent a lot of time chained up. She was allowed to run on the beach and swim in the ocean with the hotel guests for a short time each day. RaRa was even allowed to walk up in to an open pavilion area and interact with hotel guests who would gather there to socialize and relax. She was very popular and was quite a "star." But because she was living at a resort hotel, she was dissuaded from eating grass, so as not to tear up the manicured lawns. Similarly, she was also not allowed to cover herself with dirt and or mud (which is very normal and healthy for elephants) as she had to be clean and tidy all of the time so that the guests could touch her and not get dirty.
Around the time RaRa was two years old, a German lady came to stay at the Sheraton. She fell in love with RaRa, and this initial meeting turned in to many subsequent visits as the years passed, sometimes visiting RaRa several times a year. She wasn't the only person to fall in love with RaRa: there was a German couple and a woman from New Zealand as well. Some of their visits overlapped and soon they became friends because of their love for RaRa. They all agreed on one thing, that despite the fact that they enjoyed spending time with RaRa at the Sheraton, they all felt that it was not the best life for her. She needed to be living with elephants, not surrounded by people all of the time.
They all individually approached the managerial staff of the Sheraton and expressed their concerns. They very politely and gently explained how much nicer it would be for RaRa to be living in some sort of sanctuary. Thankfully, the Sheraton took their guests concerns to heart and made a very compassionate and generous decision to buy RaRa from her owner and donate her to Elephant Nature Park!
This was a very wonderful and forward-thinking decision on the Sheraton's part. Obviously having a young elephant in residence was a novelty that brought extra vacationers to their hotel. But now being known as the hotel that gave up their elephant so that she could live a better life (and learn how to be an elephant) will be even better for their reputation. We hope that more hotels with young solitary elephants will see the Sheraton as an example and will follow in their footsteps in the future.
The first few days at Elephant Nature Park were quite difficult for RaRa. Elephant Nature Park was so different from life at the Sheraton. First, there were all of these creatures around who were the same size or much bigger than RaRa. She was used to being the biggest "person" around. Because she was separated from her mother so early and hadn't spent any time with other eles since then, it seemed that RaRa didn't recognize that she was the same species as these long-nosed giants who were so interested in her. She clung to her human friends for safety and being chained was like a security blanket for her.
As the days passed, slowly but surely RaRa became more accustomed to her surroundings. Once she accepted her new mahout, she started roaming the Park freely, though there are areas that RaRa prefers more than others. She started covering herself in dirt. She didn't run away as quickly when curious elephants approached her. Soon she was even bathing in the river at the same time that the other eles went to the river. When she first arrived she wouldn't even go in the river. it was much colder and smaller than the vast ocean that she was used to swimming in!
RaRa still has a long way to go, and she has many fears to get over. Her confidence needs to grow. All of this will take time. She sleeps with Hope, Mae Perm and Mae Jokia but rarely spends any time with them during the day. She is beginning to feel more comfortable in the presence of other elephants, but does not seem to have the bonding skills that she would have learned from her mother or from living with other elephants in her younger years. Because of RaRa's extended period of time alone, she is unsure how to interact with them. She still seems to feel more safe and secure when she is in the company of the humans that she trusts.
RaRa is quickly becoming a favorite of volunteers and visitors since she seeks out the company of Westerners, whom she feels comfortable with. Hopefully as time passes, RaRa will feel equally comfortable with the other elephants as well and find ele-friends to spend her days with.