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Taking an elephant’s temperature is one way the vet can assess the animal’s health, which is important at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) in Thailand where many of the elephants have been rescued from harsh lives hauling lumber, or begging on the busy streets of Bangkok. The GTAEF is one of many organizations struggling to protect abused, captive elephants, as well as educate people on the plight of the dwindling wild population. Loss of habitat and poaching for ivory has made the Asian elephant ten times more endangered than their big-eared African cousin.
When the vet hands me the thermometer, I laugh. I was expecting something…well… elephant-sized. But the thermometer is no bigger than the one I use at home. Protecting the glass tip with my finger, I ask Poonlarb if she’s ready, and inch my hand into her rectum. “More,” the vet says, and I reach further pushing up on my tip-toes. Poonlarb’s muscles gently contract around my arm. If the mahout (elephant handler) wasn’t holding her tail, this nearly two ton female could easily knock me off my feet with one swish. I rub Poonlarb’s rump, and assure her it will be over soon, but four minutes is a long time when you have your hand up an elephant’s backside.
I pull the thermometer out and hand it to the vet. “36.2 Celsius,” she says. “Normal.” That’s 97.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Poonlarb is one healthy elephant, and luckily for me, a patient patient.
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