Elephants don't grow up quickly. Their childhood can last a decade or more, giving their mothers time to pass on complex cultural knowledge while they gradually become the largest land animals on Earth.
Yet despite our own lengthy childhoods, we don't always empathize with young elephants' need to stay with their mothers. Humans have a bad habit of breaking up elephant families, sometimes by poaching and sometimes by selling them to other people for service or entertainment.
On rare occasions, though, we get a chance to right our wrongs by reuniting long-lost elephant relatives. That's what happened to MeBai, a female Asian elephant who was just 3 years old when she was separated from her mother, Mae Yui. After spending several years giving rides to tourists, MeBai was recently reunited with Mae Yui — an emotional meeting that was captured in the video below.
MeBai had been taken from her mother to work at a tourist camp in a different part of Thailand, where people were reportedly allowed to ride on her neck — despite her small size — as part of a mahout training program. She began losing weight and had to stop working due to her failing health, so her owner eventually decided to move her to the "Pamper A Pachyderm" program at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai province.
"When she first arrived, she was quite nervous and we took care to feed her well until she was healthy again," Elephant Nature Park founder Sangduen "Lek" Chailert writes in a blog post about the rescue. "We also began to search what had become of her mother."
Chailert soon discovered Mae Yui was working at another tourist camp more than 60 miles away, so she contacted that camp's owner about setting up a reunion. He agreed, and a team of caretakers took MeBai on a four-day hike to see her mother for the first time in years.
"When Mae Yui and MeBai met, it seemed both of them were shocked and they held quiet, silent for half an hour," Chailert writes. "We all stand there silent with them and want to see what will happen. And then they began to talk, MeBai and her mother joining trunks, hugging each other and talking non-stop, three and half years of catching up — it is a lot of things for them to share on their experiences."
MeBai and Mae Yui are now living together again, part of a plan to eventually release both from captivity. "Mae Yui's owners and Elephant Nature Park are working together to rehabilitate Mae Yui and Me-Bai," Chailert writes, "so that they can return to the wild and live free."
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