Never underestimate an elephant‘s ability to steal our hearts. That happened on Saturday in Thailand when five elephants died while trying to rescue a three-year-old calf that was swept away in a rushing river, as The New York Times reported.
Workers at Khao Yai National Park in central Thailand heard elephant calls from Samor Poon creek near Haew Narok waterfall, which has been nicknamed Ravine of Hell and was the sight of eight elephant deaths in 1992 after a similar incident, according to The Independent. It is also the largest and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.
Park officials were alerted to the horrific scene by the distressed calls of the survivors.
When park officials arrived, they found the elephant calf drowned in the waterfall and the bodies of the five other drowned elephants close by. The two surviving elephants stood on a crag above the dead calf. They had been trapped for hours when they tried to climb out of the rugged canyon. Park workers were able to rescue them and nourish them with pineapples, bananas and sugar cane covered in supplements, as CNN reported.
“The baby fell and the other five were trying to help, but they fell into the waterfall, too,” said the park’s director, Kanchit Srinoppawan, The New York Times reported.
Edwin Wiek, the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, said the surviving pair might face hardship and struggle to survive since elephants rely on their large herds for protection and finding food. Also, elephants are known to show signs of grief and the emotional trauma may take a toll on the two survivors, according to the BBC.
“It’s like losing half your family,” Wiek told the BBC. “There’s nothing you can do, it’s nature unfortunately.”
A park official told the BBC on Monday that officers had been monitoring their tracks and were confident they were safe
Khao Yai is one of the few spots in Thailand where wild elephants – the country’s national animal – are still alive. There are roughly 300 wild elephants thought to be living there, according to The Independent, and only about 7,000 elephants in Thailand.
The national park, which is about 80 miles northeast of Bangkok, does have fencing along the banks of the 115-foot-wide Samor Poon Creek, but it was not sufficient to prevent this accident, said Mr. Kanchit, as The New York Times reported.
The surviving elephants did find a pathway down to their deceased companions. One heart-wrenching photograph, which was shared by the BBC, showed one of the survivors trying to rouse one of the dead elephants.
While the river and the falls are now closed to the public, park officials now have the unenviable task of removing the six dead elephants from the river.
“The next mission is how to take the carcasses from the river. Six of them are still in the river and the river is very strong now,” a park official said to the BBC. “We are using rope across the river and have a lot of people helping together to retrieve the carcasses.”
Wiek told the BBC the rescuers “hope to get the carcasses to an area where they can lift them with a backhoe (an excavating digger) and bury them there. The decomposing bodies will be too smelly and spread of disease is a concern.”
The BBC also reported that the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa ordered the construction of a barricade to stop animals from falling into the waterfall. He also said that food banks for the animals should be set up around the park to prevent food scarcity, which may cause elephants to venture into dangerous places.