My passion for elephants began when I was 18. I travelled to Thailand to volunteer at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) in Phuket, Thailand, with my bestie Sarah. Although I’d love to say that I was an usually altruistic teenager, it was all Sarah’s idea and I just went along for the ride, thinking we’d be hanging with cute monkeys and sipping on pina coladas all day. I realised almost instantly that was not the case. GRP are an incredible organisation who are dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-releasing gibbons into the wild. We were there to WORK.
Our volunteer days involved cleaning enclosures, construction and doing maintenance on the site, preparing meals and enrichment activities for the gibbons, and visiting local villages to educate communities about GRP. They were long and hot days; a memory that is etched into my brain is lugging buckets of wet cement up a steep mountain on a 40 degree day and thinking to myself, ‘what am I even doing here?’ But I also relished the hard work and knew that the experience would change me for the better.
And even though it was one of the hardest things I’ve done (my arms have never recovered), it was an experience of a lifetime and it ultimately inspired me to start Trunks for Trunks.
Because during my time in Thailand, I saw elephants in chains carrying tourists on their backs — often up to four people at a time. I saw gibbons dressed in baby clothes with drunk tourists taking selfies. I saw exotic birds in tiny cages with their wings tied up. I don’t know what shocked me more — the conditions these animals were in, or how everyone seemed oblivious to their suffering. A part of me knows that the people who get caught up in animal tourism are probably not meaning to contribute to the cruelty — when a cute animal is thrown into your arms, or you’re given a chance to sit atop the biggest land animal in the world, I know it is hard to resist. But it still hurt to see and I wanted to do more to help these animals.
So after a few weeks at GRP, Sarah and I made our way up north to the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiangmai. It was here that I met a beautiful elephant named Jokia. To this day, she is my constant motivation and inspiration. Jokia was put to work in extreme conditions, pulling up trees day after day in an illegal logging industry. Her owners didn’t know she was also pregnant, and one day she went into labor while working. She tried to stop to give birth but her owners ignored this, stabbing her with rusty nails to keep her moving. Jokia eventually had her baby on the side of a cliff and tragically, her baby rolled down the side of the road and passed away. Jokia was so heartbroken and distressed that she couldn’t move. And after so many hits to the eye from her owners, Jokia became permanently blind. The incredible people at the ENP rescued Jokia and she has lived the rest of her life in peace with her new herd.
One of the most endearing features of elephants is their resilience. After being removed from horrible circumstances, they can undergo an incredible transformation. At ENP, Jokia met other elephants who were rescued from circuses, the logging industry and elephant riding camps and, along with ENP’s founder Lek and the rest of the staff, they became her family. Once Jokia experienced kindness and love from humans, she transformed into a happy, banana loving elephant for her remaining years.
Coming home from a trip of a lifetime was exciting, I was inspired and eager to make a difference. It was this motivation that led me to work at RSPCA Victoria and immerse myself in the not-for-profit industry. Within a year, I had already booked a trip back to Thailand with a bunch of mates in tow to show them just how amazing ENP is! My second trip allowed me to stay longer at ENP and learn more and more about elephants and the problems they face. I was fast becoming that annoying person at parties who brings the mood down with grim facts of animal extinction and the evils of the tourism industry (let's be real — I am still that person. But I always try to bring the vibe back up again!).
During a third trip to ENP in 2015 with my now-husband and more mates, I was determined to soak up everything I could about elephant protection and welfare. I racked my brain as to how I could actually help beyond having my holidays shoveling elephant poo and cutting up watermelon. And in the tuk tuk on the way to the airport, Trunks for Trunks was born.