The relationship between a rescued elephant and her trainer speaks to how animals can learn to trust and love a human, even after suffering torture and indignity. Their bond is so profound that every day one elephant ambles over to greet an elephant sanctuary worker whenever he rides by on his tractor (video below).
Kham Lha, a young Asian elephant who was placed in an elephant sanctuary after being abused, is always eager to say hello whenever she spots her trainer. Every day, whenever he rides by on his tractor, she darts in his direction to exchange a tender greeting, according to Shareable.
Kham Lha trumpets her delight, her ears flapping as she nestles her head against his palm.
The young elephant lives in the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her trainer, 42-year-old Darrick Thomson, who is originally from Canada, says she has made a remarkable recovery since he first met her.
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"Kham Lha was in a really bad way when she came to us," Thomson told the Daily Mail. "She had been tied up and forced to undergo cruel training, known as crushing, to prepare her work in the tourist industry."
Crushing has been a practice in Asia for centuries. Elephant calves are separated from their mothers and confined to a cage for a week, beaten with bullhooks and tortured through starvation and and sleep-deprivation until they are so broken they become fearfully docile in the presence of humans. The Thai tourist industry uses this method to domesticate elephants, according to Vice News' Broadly.
The Elephant Nature Park was established in 1996 to provide abused elephants a place to roam and re-integrate into a herd. Many of them never recover from the psychological or physical trauma of crushing and subsequent years of captivity.
"Their life has so much suffering," said Sangduen Chailert, founder of the sanctuary. "They are big, but to be under the human hand they must suffer. We use them like a slave."
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Kham Lha was among those that had been tortured so she would gives rides to tourists. In 2015, she was brought to the Elephant Nature Park.
"We freed her and helped her to recover," Thomson said. "She became really close to me and we formed a strong bond."
A spokesman for the sanctuary confirmed that Kham Lha has shown signs of recovering from her ordeal.
"We're all really pleased with Kham Lha's progress and how well she's adapted," the spokesman said. "She now a happy young elephant."
One would think that after suffering torture at the hands of man, an elephant would hesitate to ever form a connection with a human ever again. Kham Lha's bond with Thomson indicates that even when people have wronged an animal, that trust can be regained if it is earned.