Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mahout Bio - Boon Chew and Ree Rah

Ree Rah (and Jordoh)

Aged 15 and 16 years respectively, Boon Chew and Ree Ra are our two youngest mahouts – and also the owners of Ma Na and Pbee Mai, the elephants they mahout for. Ownership of elephants can pass through the family which is how they have ended up with this privilege. Although they can mahout for the two elephants interchangeably, Boon Chew is most commonly with Ma Na -the mother elephant, and Ree Ra is most commonly with Pbee Mai - Ma Na’s four and a half year old male calf.

Bpee Mai and Ma Na
Boon Chew and Ree Ra are almost always together – especially when we are out in the field with the elephants. Most of the time they act like typical young teenage guys you would meet anywhere in the world. Sometimes they want to tease and joke around with the volunteers – putting twigs and leaves in our bags, telling us the elephants are eating mousa-toh (a popular Karen dish literally translating into English as ‘chillies pounded’) when we ask for foraging information, or throwing buckets of water at us while bathing the elephants in the river. At other times they are too cool for silly interactions and keep to themselves. On most hikes one or the other has Thai music playing as loud as the volume allows from their phones – usually a random mix of love songs or Thai rock. If they are out of sight with the elephants, you can often hear Boon Chew singing in the distance. Both also pay a lot of attention to what they wear – Ree Ra’s signature outfit of the moment is a puffy pale green jacket while Boon Chew’s switches between a ‘Hello Kitty’ and ‘Playboy’ theme. 
Boon Chew and Ree Ra are growing up to be excellent mahouts. It’s quite a unique opportunity for them to be able to work as mahouts but still live with their families in the village, and have their elephants spend the majority of their time in their natural forested habitat.   
Boon Chew