Faa Mai is an elephant full of love for one particular person — she’s obsessed with Lek Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature Park (ENP), the Thailand elephant sanctuary that Faa Mai calls home.
Sometimes that love makes her a bit overprotective. In a recent Facebook post, Chailert describes an incident in which Faa Mai wouldn’t let her out of her sight — or her grasp.
“Today she [Faa Mai] spied me out of the corner of her eye while she was playing in the mud and happily came to hug me with a trunk full of mud,” Chailert said. “All my hair and face was covered with mud, so I went down to the river to clean myself off.”
Faa Mai, who will turn 9 years old this year, didn’t want Chailert to leave her. So, she followed her down to the river, and caressed Chailert with her trunk as Chailert tried to clean herself — and someone caught the whole thing on video.
“She continuously checked to make sure that I was safe, touching me with her trunk,” Chailert said. “The more that she touched me, the more that I was dappled with dirt.”
Faa Mai didn’t just use her trunk to safeguard Chailert — when Chailert kneeled down in the water, Faa Mai placed a protective foot onto Chailert’s back. And when Chailert stepped out of the river, Faa Mai made sure she was right next to her.
“She then shuffled me away from the river as is the way of a mother toward her calf,” Chailert said. “Sometimes I wonder what Faa Mai is thinking, acting always so caring and protective as if she were my mama.”
This isn’t the first time Faa Mai and Chailert’s strong bond has been caught on camera. Chailert often sings to Faa Mai, and, two years ago, someone recorded Chailert fanning and singing a lullaby to Faa Mai as the young elephant happily snored.
More recently, Faa Mai and Chailert were filmed playing an adorable game of hide-and-seek.
Faa Mai isn’t the only elephant at ENP who shares a deep bond with her rescuers. When Chailert’s husband Darrick once went for a swim, a young elephant named Kham Lha leapt into the water to “rescue” him from drowning, even though he wasn’t in any danger.
Many of the elephants who reside at ENP were rescued from the tourism industry, including Faa Mai’s own mother, Mae Bua Tong, who’d been forced to carry tourists up and down a mountain on two-hour treks eight times a day.
What Mae Bua Tong went through isn’t unusual — thousands of elephants are currently being used in the tourism industry throughout Thailand, as well as other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. In some cases, the elephants are worked so hard, they end up dying from exhaustion.
In 2005, Mae Bua Tong was lucky enough to come to live at ENP, along with her older child, Tong Jan. Faa Mai was the first elephant to be born free at Elephant Nature Park.