Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: A Summary of the Past Year from Huay Pakoot

Hello again from Huay Pakoot!

We are so excited for the New Year to begin and for our project to continue to grow and improve as time goes on! Currently, we are in the process of creating a new GVI website that will be simpler to use and allow you to learn more about all of the amazing projects that GVI takes part in.  Therefore, this will be the last blog at this blog address.  Please stay tuned to our Facebook (GVI Thailand Chiang Mai) and Twitter (@GVIchiangmai) pages for updates on where you can find our new blog on the new website! Thank you, as always, for your support of our project and we wish you the happiest and healthiest of new years. 

Here is a summary of the major things that happened in Huay Pakoot during 2013!!!

The beginning of the year started with some unfortunate circumstances in the village when one of our baby elephants, Song Kran, consumed pesticides from the nearby crop fields.  The amount of pesticide consumed caused his body to shut down and Song Kran passed away in January.  The death of this baby elephant was a complete shock to everyone in the village, including the volunteers, the Mahouts, and the villagers, and it was immediately decided that changes needed to be made, not only to prevent something like this from happening again, but to ensure the health and safety of the elephants in a variety of situations.  The Song Kran Fund was started in January with the aims to train the Mahouts successfully in elephant first aide and to create an emergency veterinary clinic in Huay Pakoot for more accessibility to injured elephants for effective treatment.  The month of January also brought on more interest in biodiversity in Huay Pakoot.  Night hikes were started to allow volunteers to explore the biodiversity that comes out at night near the village, and data collection began to understand the other wildlife that we have in the area!

The second month of the year in Huay Pakoot saw increased community relations with GVI through organized fun days and increased interest in learning English from the locals.  The fun day that occurred in February took place at the school in the village and involved a football match, cooking Thai food with the kids, and playing all sorts of games and activities.  We also continued to teach English language lessons, both in the school and to the community.  Our project is conservation minded, but events like these allow us to have positive relationships with the villagers that we live and interact with daily!

March brought one of our first fundraising projects to benefit the Song Kran Fund that was established in January.  A climb up Doi Suthep, a 1,676 meter high mountain near Chiang Mai, was completed by a group of volunteers and staff members, and all of the participants raised money to go directly to the Song Kran Fund! We appreciate the hard work and exhausting day that these GVI participants endured for the health of our elephants! We also celebrated World Pangolin Day in the village! We celebrated this day to increase awareness about the species, which could be seen in the village in the past! One day we are hoping to have more Pangolins around Huay Pakoot, indicating we have a healthy forest and habitat for them to live in!

In April, our Lead Mahout had the amazing opportunity to shadow and assist elephant veterinarians at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Chiang Mai. He lived at the Conservation Center and spent his days learning the daily care and modern veterinary procedures for the elephants at the center in the hopes that he could bring this knowledge back to the village and share with the other Mahouts.  Having this knowledge helps ensure the health of our elephants, since we are so far from any clinics that would be able to treat our elephants! April also brought the celebration of Earth Day, allowing GVI participants to help clean up Huay Pakoot and appreciate the beautiful area that we are fortunate to live in!

May was the month of increased activities and events to make sure our volunteers had opportunities to learn more about the culture, interact with the locals, and spend more time in the forest.  One change that started in May was the chance to eat in the forest! On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the volunteers have the opportunity to cook their lunches in the forest, using all natural materials taken from the forest, such a bamboo serving dishes and bamboo spoons.  With the help of the Mahouts, it is possible to create noodle dishes, fish dishes, and lots of crushed chili dishes over a big fire created by the Mahouts.  It has been a great opportunity for the volunteers to interact with the Mahouts and learn about the forests that surround Huay Pakoot.  This month brought an increased interest in learning English throughout the community, so in addition to teaching English at the school, we started programs to work one on one with the Mahouts, as well as offering additional classes after school for the kids and teaching English to our homestay families after dinner.

Five new elephants joined our herd in June of 2013! This expansion is a huge step forward for our project because the main goal of the project is to have elephants come from camps and other venues that are detrimental to their health and be able to live in their natural habitats! These elephants, including a mother and son as well as three generations of females, now get to have lives filled with more open spaces, a variety of food sources available, and socialization with other elephants that we have on our program.  We are so happy to have San Jep, Mario, Kham Suk, Kha Moon, and Lulu on our project and love seeing their personalities come to life as they begin their happier and healthier lifestyles in their natural habitat.

We celebrated World Tiger Day in July to once again create awareness about tigers and their extreme population decline worldwide! Volunteers and staff members spent the day researching facts about the tiger and creating fact sheets to post around base for future volunteers to see and be educated.  Our volunteers and staff also created a Paper Mache tiger and learned about the history of tigers in Thailand.  One of the elders in the village shared stories from when he was younger about the tigers in Huay Pakoot and the interactions that locals had with the tigers.  Tigers threatened the villagers, the dogs, and the livestock in the village constantly, which is crazy to think about since the presence of tigers in this area is almost non-existent.  It was a great day to learn about the tigers, both the facts and figures and the personal experiences from a villager!

World Elephant Day, which is a day near and dear to our hearts in Huay Pakoot, provided an chance for all volunteers to get involved and think of ways to spread awareness for elephants outside of Huay Pakoot.  The volunteers and staff created an amazing video about the ethical issues that Asian Elephants face and how projects like ours aim to change the circumstances that elephants face.  Everyone enjoyed a showing of the film once it was completed and we hope that the video will continue to be shown to families and friends all over the world to increase awareness.  Part of the day was also spent in the nursery with the kids playing games and doing activities that were all elephant related and taught the kids about how the elephants are much happier when they get to live in the forest instead of in camps! It was a great day filled with elephants, and we hope to continue to increase awareness and education throughout the entire year!

Because our baby elephants are not quite old enough to be in the forest constantly, we decided that it would be beneficial for them to have some sort of environmental enrichment during the time they spend in the village.  Our babies can show some stereotypical behavior that they would have acquired in the camps to amuse themselves, and the goal of the enrichments is to cut down on this behavior as much as possible.  The enrichment program has created food related toys for the elephants to play with and puzzle them to keep their attention away from negative behaviors. In September, we created large barrels with holes in them to fill with elephant grass as a puzzle feeder, and we hope to continue to create enrichment devices to keep the elephants amused in the afternoon and evenings when they are in the village.  Having these devices has already shown positive changes in the frequency of stereotypical behavior and we look forward to the future of this project!

In October, GVI had the opportunity to participate in an annual sports tournament that Huay Pakoot competes in every year! Participants from 20 other villages came to Huay Pakoot to compete in football games, volleyball matches, and Tah Croch games.  Huay Pakoot had an amazing football team and won the finals on the last day of the tournament.  GVI created an all girls volleyball team, and despite the losses against the other more experienced teams, they had great spirit throughout the tournament and continued to cheer on the other teams from Huay Pakoot.  Once again, this tournament provided a great opportunity for GVI staff and volunteers to interact with villagers and build positive relationships, all while having fun in the sun and running around!

We participated in a 48 hour sleep-out in the forest as another fundraiser for the Song Kran Fund in November at the end of the rainy season! Our Mahouts helped us find a suitable campsite for the weekend, and we packed up our essentials and walked to our campsite, which was about 2 or 3 kilometers from Huay Pakoot.  We all worked together to collect firewood and clear a big area for sleeping, and then attempted to make our own lunch without the help of the Mahouts for once! It was very successful, and then we went on a hike down the nearby river to search for biodiversity near camp.  At night, we had the opportunity to hike and see the elephants, which is a rare opportunity, and despite the treacherous terrain, it was amazing to see them in a whole different light.  We went on gibbon hikes in the mornings, roasted marshmallows over the camp fire, and tried our best to get some sleep! The money raised for surviving this sleep out will be a huge help in building the clinic for our elephants in the new year! We also celebrated the lantern festival that takes place all over Thailand, both in Chiang Mai and Huay Pakoot.  We let off lanterns by the school, symbolizing the release of any stress or worries that you may have.  It was an amazing bonding experience that everyone took part in and had the chance to be worry free!

Our year has been wrapping up with Christmas celebrations on base, and New Year’s Celebrations with the villagers and guests from many other villages.  Another notable event that happened early in December was the completion of the Chiang Mai Marathon and 10k by 6 volunteers and staff members.  The motivated runners traveled to Chiang Mai the weekend before Christmas, woke up at the crack of dawn or before it, and ran around the old city, once again to raise money for the Song Kran Fund! Everyone completed the race in great times, and although they were sore coming back to the village, our program appreciates their motivation to help our elephants once again!

We want to thank you again for all of your support of our project and all of its goals, both long and short term.  Please stay tuned as we begin our new blog in the new year! Best wishes!!!