Retired Elephants

Retired Elephants

When a person thinks about animals living in South East Asia they automatically think “elephants”. This is truly the home of Asian elephants, but they are becoming increasingly rare in in the wild. On a recent visit to Cambodia, I learned that in the whole country there are now fewer than 300 wild elephants. There are another 85 elephants in captivity and historically these captive animals have been used to move logs in the forest. The indigenous Bunong people of Mondul Kiri have kept elephants for such work, but most of these elephants are now old and tired. They can no longer work and the Bunong owners don’t have the money to care for them properly.

To solve this problem an organization run by expatriates has been formed to provide a retirement home for these elephants. Bunong mahouts can now bring their old elephants to this retirement home. The mahout stays with his elephant and is paid a salary for caring for his animal. This way the Bunong family who owns the elephant continues to get an income and the elephant gets to rest. The elephant retirement home is located in the forest and the retired elephants are free to wander around the jungle and feed themselves. In the afternoon they come into the base for supplementary feeding and to have a bath. Tourist can pay a hefty fee to come see the elephants at the base. They are allowed to help wash the elephants by throwing buckets of water on them. Most of these elephants were loners in their working life. But elephants are naturally social creatures and at the retirement center they form friendships with the other elephants. The twelve elephants living there have created several groupings and stay with their new companions day and night. It is a good life for old tired elephants.

But there is an interesting twist to the tale. An enterprising businessman has made a deal with a Bunong family to purchase two of the old retired elephants. He has informed the elephant retirement center that he is going to take the old elephants and put them back to work, unless the retirement center pays him $20,000 each to purchase the elephants. The two elephants are favorites at the center and would die quickly if they were put back to work hauling logs in the forest. So the squeeze is on. The elephant center has a fund raising effort to find the money needed to purchase the two old elephants. It is a unique form of elephant blackmail. Naturally Cambodians will not raise the money to buy retired elephants, so the fund raising is taking place in Europe.

Which all makes me think. Is there a way to make big money out of retired people in the USA? Retirement homes provide an important role in our society, but they are also astronomically expensive and the owners of these retirement homes make a great deal of profit. They want to keep their retirees and collect the monthly payments. Perhaps there is a possible way to make money for families whose parents are living in a retirement home? The relatives could threaten to take their parents out of the home (and put them to work) unless the retirement home gives them $20,000 per person. A new cottage industry is born! There is obviously something wrong with this idea. It needs more thought. But if they can do it with old elephants, why not old people? I could be a financial asset in my old age!