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Bridging the gap: Elephants, pineapples, and Prince William


What do you think about when you’re cleaning an elephant in a river? Maybe you’d be thinking about keeping your balance or hoping your elephant doesn’t decide to wade any deeper into the river. You probably wouldn’t think about standing in the same room as Prince William as he pledges to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. That’s probably the last thing you would think about!

Emma Steele asks Natalie Clark – Media Officer at WWF-UK – about her own experiences in Thailand and how that inspired her to want to join the cause.

Sumatran forest elephant, Indonesia. © naturepl.com/ Nick Garbutt/ WWF-Canon.Sumatran forest elephant, Indonesia. © naturepl.com/ Nick Garbutt/ WWF-Canon.

“The first time I saw an elephant was when I was volunteering at an elephant rescue centre in Thailand on my GAP year before I went to university,” says Natalie. “Just being around them makes you feel protected. It’s strange that the largest mammal on earth is pretty serene.”

Talking to Natalie about her experiences uncovers interesting links between working for a month with elephants and her day to day role managing species related media work.

“We basically had to run our daily routine around the climate. So every morning at 5am we’d go out and collect the elephants from the jungle before it got too hot. We’d then spend the rest of the day gathering pineapples to feed them. Later alongside the mahouts we would take the elephants down to the river for bathing.

Natalie cleaning an elephant in the river, ThailandNatalie cleaning an elephant in the river, Thailand

I remember the first day I was cleaning an elephant in the river and she dived under to scratch on the river bed. I went completely under the water and I remember clinging on for dear life. When we took them back to the jungle in the evening seeing how the herd followed the matriarch –  without any human encouragement – was an inspiring insight into elephant behaviour and it’s something that I often think about now at work.”

Natalie and other volunteers collecting pineapples to feed the elephantsNatalie and other volunteers collecting pineapples to feed the elephants

Spending time around an endangered species is very different to writing about one. Natalie’s day to day role involves writing press releases and promoting the work our species team do to the media. Her work often reminds her of the time spent in Thailand.

Walking the elephants back to the jungle“Part of my job I’m really passionate about is raising awareness of the illegal wildlife trade. Watching Prince William give his speech at the London Conference on the illegal wildlife trade in February reminded me of my time in Thailand and that this work is really important. I don’t want to be telling my grandchildren in years to come about an animal I worked with that no longer exists.”

Why not do your bit by helping to conserve elephants and their habitat.

What did you think of Emma’s blog. Leave us a comment.

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