After 22 years in Sri Lanka, the ailing Plai Sak Surin came home last month. His arrival at Chiang Mai International Airport was a joyful moment for all Thais.
At the age of seven, the little elephant left his native land in 2001. Gifted to Sri Lanka, he was trained as a carrier of relics for religious ceremonies and was placed under the care of a Buddhist temple.
His comeback for medical treatment stirred concerns about the fate of other goodwill ambassadors, including two other elephants still in Sri Lanka. It also raises awareness and actions for animal rights and rearing.
Plai Sak Surin is now under good care at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) in Lampang. Its Facebook page provides updates on his recovery and features the daily life of other elephants.
Under Royal Patronage, the TECC also known as National Elephant Institute actually has a list of its members and their birthdays on the website.
Born on Aug 1, 2010, Seedor Singha is named after his birth month. This Thursday, Pang Elan, born in the Year of the Rabbit, will turn 72 while on Friday, Plai Butu will be blowing out five candles. Plai Sak Surin joins them in being a happier pachyderm at the TECC.
Joining an adoption programme can help support the jumbo residents. The TECC also offers various activities for visitors, such as herd observation, elephant rides and educational demonstrations.
The TECC actually originated from a training centre for baby elephants set up by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO) in 1978.
In the past, the gentle giants were relentlessly employed in the country's logging industry, which in turn destroyed their natural habitat.
A nationwide decree ended logging contracts in 1989 but illegal logging and elephant abuse continued.
The elephants were forced to work at night and some were even given amphetamine to do the job. The heavy work and cruel punishment resulted in injuries and illness.
Confiscated elephants would then be taken care of by the FIO, who gave them a bigger home in 1991, with the establishment of the TECC in Lampang's Hang Chat district.
The 1990s saw a brighter future given for captive elephants. A royal initiative of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother, the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation began releasing the first three elephants into the wild in 1997.
The foundation's mission is also to restore natural habitats and promote the appropriate management of elephants in Thailand for their long-term survival.
The majestic creature plays an important role in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems. For instance, they are regarded as foresters who disperse seeds for a lush jungle, and ecological engineers, who modify the landscape and create a natural habitat for other species.
The Elephant Reintroduction Foundation along with filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark initiated World Elephant Day, which was launched on Aug 12, 2012.
On Saturday, the annual observance raised awareness of the plight of the pachyderm and its declining population.
The world's largest land mammal faces numerous threats, such as habitat loss, poaching, human-elephant conflict and mistreatment in captivity. As a tourist attraction, Thai elephants are often abused to do things that are not in their nature.
World Elephant Day urges experiencing the lovely animals in non-exploitive and sustainable environments where they can thrive under care and protection.
We can also support organisations that work on stopping illegal poaching and the trade of elephant ivory, protecting wild elephant habitats, or caring for domesticated elephants in natural sanctuaries.
By simply being a collective voice in spreading the word on social media or starting a conservation can also help save the species.
Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.