This Baby Elephant Reunion Will Bring You To Tears — & Make You Think

Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.
All family reunions should be as beautiful as this. 

Last week, a baby elephant was reunited with her mother after three years of separation, making a four-day, 60-mile trek in sweltering heat to get back to her home in Thailand's Chiang Mai region, according to gut-wrenching video on GrindTV. Between all the ear flapping and trunk canoodling, you can almost hear Mr. Stork in the background cooing, "here is a baby for you to love." But, just like in that Disney classic, there's sadness in the story of this pair of pachyderms. 

Little MeBai, at just three years old, had been taken away from her mother by a local tribe to give jungle rides and perform circus tricks expressly for, you guessed it, tourists. It wasn't until she began to experience health complications that the camp handed her over to elephant caretakers like Lek Chailert, who helps run the rescue sanctuary Elephant Nature Park. When Chailert discovered that MeBai's mother was working at a nearby tourist camp, she arranged for a visit and — even better — convinced the owners of both animals to allow the mother-daughter duo to be released in the wild. 

A happy ending for these two, but the story goes much differently for elephants around the world. The animals are still held captive to fuel adventure tourism in northern Thailand; in fact, it's one of the country's biggest markets.

In Africa, poachers slaughter for ivory tusks at a sickening pace: one elephant every 15 minutes, according to Kathryn Bigelow's short animated film, Last Days. And, the money made from poaching tusks directly funds international terrorism. It's something we spoke to Chelsea Clinton about last fall, on the eve of her #SaveElephants collection launch: "So much of the ill-gotten gains from poaching are helping to fund the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, or Janjaweed in Sudan, or Boko Haram in Nigeria," she explained. "These are some of the most destabilizing and the worst actors in the world." 

So, what can be done? Simple: Stop purchasing ivory or participating in the kind of adventure tourism that exploits animals. This is especially true for our friends in (and those visiting) China — the leading consumer of ivory, and a place where regulations on ivory sales barely exist. If change isn't made there, and everywhere these animals are mistreated, the feel-good story of MeBai and her mother will be nothing more than a rare exception to the rule.
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