There are thousands of Asian elephants languishing in trekking camps — attractions where the animals are harshly trained to become tame enough to give rides to tourists. But one elephant just got away.
At age 40, Gan Da (also known as Darling) likely has little memory of a life before working in the trekking camp, since she’s spent most of her life there. She was likely trained using the same harsh tactic as all the others, a practice called “crushing.”
“Thailand currently has a captive population of over 3,500 individuals and a wild population of approximately 3,200,” Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), which runs an elephant refuge for animals like Gan Da, wrote.
So it was no small cause for celebration when an Australian woman agreed to sponsor Gan Da’s rescue and relocation to the refuge so she could finally get a taste of freedom.
“We were contacted by her owner who wanted to retire her from the tourism industry,” Tom Taylor, manager of the Wildlife Rescue Center & Elephant Refuge for WFFT, told The Dodo. “Luckily we had a recent fundraiser for elephants in Sydney, Australia, which allowed us to rescue her.”
So this week, Gan Da’s chains were removed and she was led onto a transport truck bound for a new, exciting chapter in her life.
It’s difficult to know exactly what Gan Da thought as she was escorted to the sanctuary, but a glimpse in a photo showed her wagging her tail as the truck pulled off the highway toward her new home.
People at the refuge were there to greet her and show her around her new home, lush with grasses and trees she’ll be free to explore.
She enjoyed a soothing rinse from a hose, as well.
“After the long journey from the north of Thailand, Gan Da was very happy to get off the truck and stretch her legs,” WFFT wrote on Facebook. “Gan Da has spent her first day of freedom, chain free, munching away on an array of treats, adjusting to her new life.”
“She is a sweet girl and is loving her newfound freedom at WFFT,” Taylor said. “She is already showing interest in the other elephants here. We are hopeful she will make new friends and enjoy her retirement surrounded by other rescued elephants.”