Chapter Forty-Seven

I have always loved animals.

I know everyone knew that already. I know I’m that obnoxious person that cannot go a day without talking about her fur children – ahem, DOGS, judge away – or commenting on some furry creature I saw on my Facebook wall.

This trip I have been in animal heaven and I am kiiiiiinda geeking out over it.

I have to brag. Sorry (sorta).

I held a koala.

I’m going to let that sentence stand alone and sit there for a second because I might as well have just said I saw a unicorn, it’s that exciting.

I held a koala.

A koala was in my arms.

All 20-ish pounds of gray fur and smelling strongly of eucalyptus (I’m allergic – don’t care) was nuzzling in to my body and I had to stop crying and shaking because I had to pretend I was a tree so as not to disturb it.

We also fed kangaroos, saw emus for the first time (they’re kiiiinda scary), and ventured around the park looking at all the free-roaming animals at Cleland Wildlife Park in Australia.

I’m pretty sure when I die my heaven will be some sort of version of that, with all sorts of adorable animals running around freely and in peace. And me of course bounding around like a 5-yr old loving on each one. :)

Then, in Thailand I hit the jackpot.  

I met an elephant.

I fed an elephant.

I washed and scrubbed it clean, tee-hee. :)

I stared in to its beautiful, sweet, ever-remembering eyes and felt like I looked deep in to her soul and all the years she’d experienced.

I dragged Jeremy to a wildlife conservation center specifically to avoid the tourist trap that Thailand can so often be. I didn’t care about riding elephants, especially if it was done the wrong way. Nothing about riding atop an elephant on a bench-like contraption seemed remotely fun to me.

Really, it seemed wrong and cruel – and it is.

It’s really sad that many do not know how cruel it actually is. I definitely did not know the extent of mistreatment when I first got there! I only knew that riding atop them like that made me slightly uncomfortable! Obviously people are going to go crazy about any event that involves an elephant. Most people want an interaction with something so incredibly beautiful and majestic.

I learned so much at WFFT it was amazing. I think a lot of “animal rights” places tend to come off a bit preachy to some, but I couldn’t believe what the guide was saying!!

To “take control of” and train an elephant, it has to go through a process called phajaan, which LITERALLY translates to “crushing.”

Phajaan is “breaking/crushing the spirit.”

Breaking…the spirit. Of an animal so incredible as an elephant. I was shocked that such an evil process was blatantly called that, that they had to tear down the elephant until it felt like absolutely nothing before it could become a slave to them.

I don’t need to go in to details. But think about someone trapping you in a small space and hurting you until your will to live was nonexistent.

Then they show you some amount of love.

And elephants never forget.

I was appalled.

In a more blatant mindset, I could say well of course they had to rip it of any animal instincts and rights it ever had, it’s an elephant. It’s a creature that should not be kept in captivity, but should be roaming freely.

There were many other animals at WFFT as well and the guide was describing each animal, why it was there, what horror it had come from, and if it was to ever be released to the wild or stay in captivity forever because it had lost too many of its instincts that it wouldn’t stand a chance in the wild.

One crocodile was a pet to an ice cream truck man!

One gibbon was a loving pet to a policeman that took her everywhere. He eventually passed away, but she still hates women because they always posed a threat to the love he had for her.

There were curiously some man-hating monkeys there as well…

And, bears can be bought as pets for 800 baht in Thailand.

That’s roughly twenty-two American dollars.

Um.

Olaf and Pascal were about twenty times more expensive, and dogs are obviously better accustomed as pets and companions to love on than a BEAR.

I can’t even imagine trying to raise a bear, especially as it continues to grow. And that’s what happens. People buy them for the luxury of saying they own a bear, to put a chain around its neck or confine it in a cage for others to gawk at, and then don’t realize the implications and danger of their actions.

One bear in particular sparked my interest. She had been kept as a pet with so much human interaction that she was not wary of us at all when we approached. The guide told us that because she was so accustomed to humans and didn’t possess really any of the animal instincts she should have, that she would never be released in to the wild. Yet, the workers there were not to love on her or treat her like a pet. They still wanted her to realize what she was, a bear.

That stumped me a bit.

It felt like some hellish sort of purgatory for this bear, who actually did crave human attention and affection. I understand wanting animals to regain their pride and return to the glory of what they should be.

But at a certain point, what is the cost of that?

Is it better to ignore something that must feel so lonely now that she’s deprived all she’s ever known? If she’s a lost cause for rehabilitation and will stay there forever, why deny her companionship?

It seemed pretty miserable to me. Who is it to say the way you’ve always lived is so wrong and try to turn around everything you know for something else?

I realize that it is not a human. It’s a bear. An animal.

But I often think animals are so special. They have a sense of love and loyalty that most humans do not show as candidly.

They may be a bit basic and way more simple-minded than humans.

But sometimes I think it’s nice to be simple-minded, you focus on what matters.

So, next time I want to visit an animal (so, always) I will keep the elephant and the bear in mind.

I will realize that as opposed to bottle-feeding a baby tiger milk until it’s vomiting on itself (the recently closed Tiger Temple), I should stand back and enjoy them from afar if any opportunity I had to get closer was inhumane or too touristy.

I should hug my dogs extra tight because I appreciate the love and companionship they give me, even if it means I will always look disheveled (white husky hair is not so great for the clothes).

And before I jump on an opportunity to see such marvelous animals, I will make sure the place is humane because more often than not, these beautiful creatures get taken advantage of.

If you happen to run across them, show them so much love and respect. They tend to not get it anywhere else.

Love,

Kirstin

P.S. I ALSO went to Hong Kong Disneyland aka sorry I bombarded everyone with pictures ;) Love you all!

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