Many of us are far from surprised when the truth behind elephant entertainment and labor industries unveil themselves. Here, could chose to be in a position of awareness, or of ignorance. Many strive to give a voice to these animals, while some remain numb to the reality and continue to support the industry. Either way, both groups remain distant to the severity of the situation, as they remain distant- experiencing the phenomena through a second-person point of view.
Then, we come to encounter someone that has created a whole new category- Lek Chailert. She is someone you have not yet encountered in the movies, but mirrors a the ‘hero’ stock role in a different form. These narratives spiral around a ‘hero’ figure that is alien, idealistic, and far from every day life. Here, they hold potential to stand out as an interesting character precisely because you will never come to contact them. Lek has brought the ‘hero’ stock figure to life, and has proved that if you look hard enough- they might be all around us.
Lek grew up in Thailand. Suffering from poverty, her family relied on elephant logging in order to eat a bowl of rice for dinner. Here, one could one of the core reasons why Thai people exercise de-humanizing conditions on elephants, as essentially, they need to eat. Despite this, from a young age Lek was guided by her intuition and her passion for the animals. She could no longer stand in front creatures who’s spirit disintegrated right in front of her eyes.
Lek marched down to Bangkok to strike. As they say, one attracts what they project. Soon enough, she was able to network with individuals that shared the same goals as she did- they strived to change patterns in the world that seemed impossible to alter, or simply, no one cared about them enough.
At a later age, Lek opened the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The aim of ENP is to save injured elephants from abuse by the industry that has revolved around their existence. During my time at ENP, I noticed that the camp was encompassed by elephant trekking and logging camps. The enslaved neighboring elephants could only speculate their freedom, and the elephants from ENP roamed freely. Despite the beauty of the park, it was saddening to note the elephants on the other side and the meaning behind their glances.
Lek gave an empowering speech at the park. She mentioned how people that were once close to her refrain from contacting her because they are afraid of getting in trouble. She has received various death letters from her neighbors, and her family has disowned her. Having spent only three weeks in Thailand, I could attest to this hostility, as I inquired about the park prior to visiting and I was told by a tourist office that it had been closed down. Despite the repercussions she has faced in her life, her posture was firm, her legs rooted down to the ground. Lek summarized her speech by stating that she does not need those that have disowned her. She considers the elephants and those that have supported the project as her family.
She is a 21st century hero who’s story is fogged by other powerful figures that deserve no spotlight.