A Vietnamese Elephant in France

4. September 2022

Not surprisingly,  I have never seen an elephant while  in Vietnam during the American-Vietnamese war. But I wondered how the largest land animal could survive American carpet bombing. Some elephants in Vietnam must have known about my concerns and transmitted their own thoughts by entering them into my dreams.

On April 16, 2022 these forgotten dreams were re-kindled by receiving the latest news from the European Elephant Sanctuary in France. The founders of the sanctuary had just returned from the Czech Republic after successfully negotiating for a Vietnam born elephant to be transferred from a small Czech Zoo to Elephant Haven in France.

The truck with team to accompany Delhi from the Czech Republic to France

As far as we could find out, the elephant with the name of Delhi, was born in 1972 or 1973 and was shipped from Vietnam to the Czechoslovakian zoo in 1986 at the tender age of 13 or 14, when elephants still need their mothers, siblings, aunts and cousins to teach them how to become adult elephants.

The American-Vietnam war ended on April 17, 1975 with the fall of Saigon. Delhi was therefore born when the number of wild elephants had been reduced to a mere hundred. How her mother managed to give birth during these terrible times and how the baby elephant survived its formative years remains a mystery.

Yet, in spite of her first difficult years in war-torn Vietnam and  40 years in a small enclosure barely adapted to her natural needs, on Tuesday, the 23rd of August 2022 she had learned how to walk of her own free will into the container that trucked her for 30 hours across Europe to the Elephant Haven sanctuary in France. After the container had been lifted by a huge crane and positioned at the opening to her indoor barn, she took 2 hours to finally step out of the shipping crate into her new indoor sleeping area.  Once inside she threw sand on her back, ripped out the bamboo branches which had been stuck into the sand hill  and joyfully began munching them.

Delhi’s first steps in her indoor area

Her indoor “apartment” consists of two rooms (heated during the colder months of the year) with a curtained opening to the natural paddocks where she can roam freely without human intervention. Initially, however, she will have access to a smaller paddock closer to her keepers for observation of how she will negotiate the natural terrain after having spent decades on hard surfaces.

Delhi on her small outside paddock

Gandhi, the other elephant at the sanctuary is already out roaming the larger area. The small and the large paddock are divided by an open fence, allowing the elephants to get acquainted before venturing out together.

Gandhi on a sandhill in the large outdoor area

The sanctuary’s latest newsletter describes the elephants’ first  such meeting, only three days after Delhi’s arrival:

“After a calm night and after both had a check up, Delhi went smoothly into the outside area. She went for a walk at her own pace, ate some hay, grazed a bit while Gandhi curiously stood inside the paddock next to hers. When Delhi came closer, Gandhi first went inside, a bit uncertain, but came back immediately after to see what Delhi was doing. Suddenly they stood next to each other and started to touch each other carefully….. Finally their trunks were intertwined…..  What a beautiful beginning…”