Genie, Grade 9, provides some insight into her ongoing work as an animal rights activist and Elephant Ambassador.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work with Elephants. How did you get involved?
I chose the topic of elephant rights for my Grade 5 Exhibition and everything just rocketed from there. I started composing songs about elephants and posted them on my YouTube channel. I chose this avenue because I felt like designing posters was something that too many other people were already doing.
Then, a man from the US Embassy invited me to listen to a speech by K. Lek Chailert, a woman who was already working with elephants. When I went, I was really inspired, and we were able to talk together. She is the owner of Elephant Nature Park which is part of the Save Elephant Foundation that rescues elephants. In addition to Elephant Nature Park, they have many different parks around Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. I started volunteering, and then I was invited to be one of their Elephant Ambassadors.
That’s really fantastic. What does being an Elephant Ambassador entail?
It means I need to raise awareness, regularly visit the park, volunteer, recruit other people to volunteer; basically make other people interested in the subject. The main work I’m trying to do is to convince people to not ride elephants or attend circuses with elephants in them. Even though the elephant is the national animal of Thailand, we really don’t want to abuse them!
I would love it if people would hang out with elephants in the parks, feed them, or take them to the river. It’s really dangerous for elephants when people ride them, and often the mahouts use bull hooks. Elephants are not a domesticated animal so there is not an easy way to train them: positive reinforcement doesn’t work, so instead elephants are often beaten and put into cages to try to tame them.
Personally, I usually go to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai because it’s the biggest, but I also like to go to some of the smaller camps as well. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in just 4 years with new camps opening up all the time under the Save Elephant Foundation. I do my best to go 1-2 times per year and help volunteer.
Tell me a little bit more about your songs.
I try to compose 1 new song every year. I sing and play the piano, and post my work on YouTube and Facebook. I have 2,750 subscribers on my Youtube channel and over 1.2 million views at the moment!
What is your favorite part about your project, and what is the most difficult?
The best part about what I do is when I can help someone understand a different point of view and actually change their mindset and behavior.
The hardest part is combating the “elephant tourism industry” which is really wealthy and powerful, but I try to focus my efforts on individual people and tourists rather than the big parks.
How can other people help your cause?
Don’t ride elephants, and educate your friends and family. Visit the elephant sanctuaries to support places that are taking care of elephants correctly. You can also become an elephant ambassador as well!
Which IB Learner Profile does your project exemplify the most?
I think caring because I really care about elephants and I want Thailand to attract more tourists to visit the Sanctuaries that work with elephants the right way.
I also feel like knowledgeable fits as I’m educating others about what’s actually going on.
How has KIS inspired/supported you for this project?
This issue was really important to me before I needed to have a topic for my Grade 5 exhibition, so when that came up, it really pushed me to actually do something. Several teachers have invited me to speak in primary school classes, and I even talked about my work as an ambassador in one of the Secondary School Assemblies.
Any final thoughts?
Before you ride an elephant, try to put yourself in their shoes: their backs are not built to support a lot of weight. It’s important to also think about the suffering the elephant went through just to be able to ride it. It’s not really safe to ride elephants anyway, as many tourists have been injured because they’ve fallen off.