After buying Thai scarves and purses from the hill tribe people North of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Liz had to spend time with the Asian elephants. The Maetaman Elephant Camp is considered one of the best, so we went there and experienced more than ever imagined. The camp is located in a very lush and well maintained habitat with 65 elephants and was very active with visitors. We meandered around the property, at first feeling overwhelmed being so close to these giants. Then, that sensation turned into a sense of amazement as to their power, intelligence and gentleness.
Liz had to touch every elephant she saw. She was amazed at the size and moistness of the elephant’s mouth. We were both surprised by the amount of and the stiffness of the hair on the elephant’s forehead and trunk. The elephant’s tail is particularly stiff like a steel brush.
We decided to take a trek through the forest on an elephant. The power and size of the elephant is easily felt as she confidently walk through the scenic terrain. A surprisingly rough ride being jostled from side to side with every step but a lifetime opportunity to experience a past form of transportation.
Upon our return, the elephants were just finishing their baths. It was a playful time with some of the elephants choosing to stay submerged for a while. The crowd watching the elephants in the river would let out a group laugh as the elephants would occasionally spray water on the visitors standing closest to the river.
We didn’t know what was going to happen next, but when Liz saw two of her favorite food groups, sugar and sugar, in the form of sugarcane and bananas, she had to get “a lot” of them to feed/reward the elephants.
The elephants displayed various learned skills and delighted the visitors. Then, about 6 easels were positioned around the yard. We had arrived after all the benches were taken. So, fortunately we sat on a log that happened be closest to, who we did not know at the time, was the star painting elephant – Hong.
When I saw the elephant walking toward the easel and carrying a toolbox with paints, I turned on my video camera to capture whatever was going to happen next. Liz started clicking away with our digital camera we had been using to take all our “human artisan” pictures to use for our philanthropic business, ExoticWorldGifts.com.
It’s when she made her second stroke and I realized she was drawing the image of an elephant that I said “O MY GOD” – an integral part of our YouTube video. We stood in amazement as she retraced her lines with precision. We and others were in complete awe watching her concentration while creating her realistic painting of an elephant with a flower.
It took 8 minutes for Hong to complete her work-of-art. Then, having seen the bananas and sugar cane on Liz’s lap before starting to paint, she headed straight to Liz when she finished her master piece. Liz had a very close visit with Hong and learned that Hong is the only elephant that hands back her bunch of sugar cane to be untied. After three back and forth exchanges, Liz figured out what Hong was communication, “Look lady, untie my sugar cane and we’ll both be happy”.
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the elephant camp, asking questions and learning more about the Asian elephants, their dire situation. Suddenly, what started out a fun little side trip turned into a conservation project that touched our hearts and needs much support.
Three months later, on March 7, 2007, thinking that some people might really enjoy seeing the elephant paint, we posted the ORIGINAL Elephant Painting video on YouTube. The video went viral and was seen on Good Morning America, CNN, The Today Show, David Letterman, and a host of international news programs, magazines, and newspapers. Not even counting the number of times the video has been linked and passed around the world through email, the video has been seen by more than 9.3 million viewers on YouTube and is included on well over 1,100 blogs.