“It is sad enough to witness the conditions that wild animals are compelled to live in, but so much sadder to see us point to others to decry their error and ways. My grandfather would say that when we point our finger to another to always remember that 3 fingers point back to ourselves. To be self-aware demands an ability for self-criticism and firm yet fair kindness to others. We must look around ourselves and recognize that it is mostly the western way that has run rampant across our globe, leaving so much garbage in its wake. We are all responsible and must do more than our part to mend a broken polluted world. We disrupt mother earth and the lives of so many. The seas are our sewer and we take and take from its life till there is no more. The skin of others adorn our feet, wrap around our waists of excess and drape off of our shoulders to carry sundry personal items. The flesh of others lie bloodied on our plate, and the raising of these sentient beings has been linked to the primary cause of global warming. All of this is just to say that change begins with ourselves. Anything less is undoubtedly insignificant. There is no time to be wasted on squabbles for blame. Be the change!” -Lek Chailert

Lek Chailert is a renown animal rights activist whom founded The Elephant Nature Park in the 1990s. It is a sanctuary based on rescue and rehabilitation for not only the endangered Asian elephant but also for stray dogs, cats, horses, buffalo, monkeys and even bears. Hands-on conservation work from volunteers all over the world help protect and educate individuals on the dangers of animal abuse and neglect. However, in addition to helping these animals, it also fosters an opportunity to live like the local Karen people, learn their culture and to establish a connection with the environment. Below are some eco-friendly advances that I discovered whilst volunteering:

creativity from the mahouts

The mahouts (elephant caregivers) were very charming despite being unable to speak English. One night they even put on a show for us with flutes made from pipes and a drum made from a bucket! It just goes to show how creative they are and how they put use to everything they have. I also saw that earlier as the mahouts were carving little elephant statues from the wood found around the park!

elephant waste for fertilizer

Think about how much waste a 2-5-ton animal produces! Luckily, the sanctuary uses all that waste to fertilize their local fields. With help from the volunteers, elephant poo is shovelled all across the park, loaded on a tractor and placed in a designated ‘poop pile’. Once this pile amounts to an ideal load for fertilizing, it is then transported to the local fields where it helps several fruit and vegetable varieties grow-a great alternative to chemical fertilizers!

harvesting local fields

Poly-cultured fields are a more sustainable option when compared to a mono-cultured ones as it allows for several plant varieties to grow at one time—rice, banana and even corn grew here. For instance, corn was a common food source that the sanctuary used to feed elephants as it was a nutritional part of their diet. In turn, volunteers had the strenuous task of harvesting this sweet corn—all by hand!

In general, their local field allowed for community efforts to sustain the field, substantially reducing energy input from machines. In turn, this meant that pesticide use and heavy machinery resulting in soil erosion and mass emissions was nonexistent.

solar power

Lastly, another eco-friendly way of living demonstrated itself through converting sunlight into electricity via solar panels. This was a highly advantageous form of achieving power in the remote location of the sanctuary but most importantly, it was clearly a sustainable energy system.

Although you had to travel with a flashlight at night, that one con is outweighed by all the environmental benefits of mitigating global warming and fossil fuels common in other forms of electricity.

Overall, I am so grateful to have been involved with an organization that helps to alleviate the suffering of animals but at large, teaches individuals from all over the world that eco-friendly alternatives can also be efficient!

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