Near Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, a woman named Lek Chailert has saved some 200 elephants from cruel fates in the logging and tourism industries. They’ve all been “crushed” — tortured to the point that they have no will of their own and ply to their masters’ commands. Great for profiteers; not so great for the elephants.
That’s where Chailert came in. In 1998, she helped found a nature preserve where elephants could be rehabilitated. The daughter of a hill tribe shaman, Chailert too sought a healers’ vocation. But for her the focus wasn’t people but animals mistreated for the enrichment of the Thai tourism and teak industries, and for the benefit of foreign consumers.
Today, Chailert’s resume includes a 2010 visit with Hillary Clinton as one of the U.S. State Department’s “Women Heroes of Global Conservation,” and she was featured in TIME magazine. She’s been known to sing elephants to sleep. And most recently, one of the elephants she rescued sprang into action to save its favorite trainer, a volunteer from Canada who was pretending to drown in a river.
“I went in the river to show just how remarkable the relationship with humans is,” the trainer said. “And that if you show warmth and kindness to them, they will treat you well, too.”