Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who is Soraida Salwala? Part 2

If you're new to this story, please begin at Part 1

by Sean Whyte

Every British zoo vet I spoke to was shocked at the extent of the elephant’s injuries. They advised us as best they could: some were even willing to come out to Bangkok, providing the Thai zoo authorities formally invited them. The zoo dismissed this offer of help and Honey’s fate looked ever more desperate. Each time I returned to Honey at the zoo, there was Soraida, providing tender loving care to her, day and night.

One last ditch effort was called for to persuade the zoo to help Honey.

(the fact unfolded later that  it was Soraida who actally brought Honey to the zoo and the owner gave her the ownership of Honey but some people refused to listen even when she wanted to take Honey back to Lampang )

I contacted the Daily Star newspaper with the story and asked for their urgent help with running a feature on how this beautiful baby elephant was being left to die in terrible pain. To their credit they not only did this, they also offered to fly Honey to England where specialist help was available. The Thai authorities were not in the least bit interested and were adamant that leaving the elephant to die was the right thing to do.

By now, though, word of Honey’s plight had begun to spread. We sensed a growing concern from the authorities. After one long and especially harrowing day Soraida said, “Mr. Whyte, may I show you my plans for an elephant hospital? I never want to see another elephant suffer like this again.”

Unrolling a set of architect drawings Soraida proceeded to explain her dream of building the world’s only elephant hospital. It became apparent that helping elephants was something she had been planning for some time. “An elephant hospital, Soraida? Will there be enough serious accidents like this to justify the expense?” I was more than a little curious to find out.

“Let me explain to you why this hospital is so desperately needed,” said Soraida. It was a grim story – one of drug abuse, law-breaking, corruption, deliberate injuries being inflicted on these magnificent animals by greedy owners, accidental injuries pulling logs from deep in the forests, the list went on. Although I’d been involved in wildlife conservation all my life and I had been to Thailand before, this news came as a shock to me.

“I don’t know how I will build the hospital, I just know it wil be built if it’s the will of God,” Soraida said. Given what I had just seen and heard, and the general attitude towards strong-willed women in Thailand, I confess I had my doubts.  Deep down, though, something was telling me Soraida would achieve her dream. We both knew she was likely to face fierce opposition, personal attacks on her integrity and a government bureaucracy that can stop all but the corrupt in their tracks.

“Soraida, I think it’s a wonderful idea. We both know it won’t be easy but if anyone can get this hospital built, I’m certain you are that person. Please keep me informed of your progress and let me know how I might be able to help you,” I said. Soon after this I had to return to England but not before making one last visit to Honey.

This time there was clearly some action being taken at last. Zoo vets were now on the scene and beginning to try and ease this gentle baby’s suffering. There was even a barrier erected to keep back the growing numbers of onlookers and sympathizers. Easing my way through the crowd I told the officials, now busying themselves around Honey, that I had come to say goodbye to the baby elephant. Lying down beside Honey one last time, I kissed her trunk and whispered to her a few words of comfort. On the long flight back to England that night I could not sleep. All I could do was think of Honey and bring the image of her vividly to mind. I vowed then I would do all that I could to help both SORAIDA and HONEY.

Go to Part 3.

Friends of the Asian Elephant relies on generous donors like you to fund their crucial work. Donations can be made at the PayPal button on their website. You do not need to have a PayPal account.
More information on FAE is available in English at  Jody's Jungle
Follow Soraida Salwala on Twitter: @SoraidaSalwala

Story and photos graciously provided by Soraida Salwala. All rights reserved. Ms. Salwala is the founder of the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital in Lampang, Thailand.

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