Thursday, November 3, 2011

After the rains, baby elephant Soisilee brings a ray of hope

(CNN) -- Six weeks ago, the floodwaters sweeping down from Thailand's north reached Ayutthaya, a UNESCO-listed historical city that lies 100 kilometers from Bangkok.

Just one week later, the entire area was severely flooded. Shops closed, roads became rivers, temples and monuments were unable to keep the waters at bay, and people had to swim or use boats to get food and water.

One of those affected was Yvette Cagney, a 30-year-old Australian who has worked as an elephant helper at Ayutthaya's Royal Elephant Kraal for the past three years. She had to climb from her house through a second-floor window to escape the rising waters.

Death toll rises to 381 in Thai floods

But it wasn't just people and historical sites that were affected; animals too were under stress -- including dozens of elephants that had been stranded on top of the kraal.

Cagney and her colleagues were able to help about 60 elephants escape to higher grounds, and set up camp three kilometers away. Because of their fragility, about eight babies and their mothers had to be left behind.

Stranded elephants in need of food

But the initial relief of escape has subsided, and the lives of both the elephants and their human helpers are becoming increasingly difficult.

"I've been living in a small makeshift tent, right next to the elephants' enclosure, for about four weeks" says Cagney. "It's tough, but our real concerns are for the elephants."

The area has little shade, and there's limited access to fresh food and water.

"The older animals are particularly vulnerable, as they need a lot of extra care and special food," explains Cagney. "It's scary to think how long we may be stuck here. The kraal has been destroyed, so even after the floods subside, it's going to be at least another two months before we can get them back to a permanent home."

Yet amongst the pessimism, there has been one fortuitous turn of events -- the arrival of a new baby to the herd. Born just three days ago, Soisilee has brought a shade of happiness and a touch of hope.

He's already at home taking a bath in the muddy flood waters, and seems to have become the darling of the herd.

"He's our gift among all this craziness," says Cagney. "He's lifted everyone's spirits during these hard times."
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