Elephants stand in the shade under the trees. A truck pulls up. A team of mahouts, elephant caretakers, begin to unload the truck. Inside is a pile of spiky vines. We are at a conservation center in Thailand. These vines will be used to make a medicine for the elephants.

These elephants live at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.

Elephants use their trunks to lift grasses to their mouths.

I am here to study how elephants are taken care of. I am an ethnobotanist. That’s a person who studies the ways people use plants.

These are pieces of the spiky vines eaten by elephants.

I work in the field with a guide and a master healer.

Working With Elephants

I will learn from a group of people called the Karen. The Karen have lived and worked with elephants for hundreds of years. Elephants helped people travel long distances. They helped move heavy objects like logs. Today, many elephants live in camps. Tourists come and visit them.

One of the first things I notice at the center is that elephants like to eat sweet foods. They eat sweet corn and sugar cane. They don’t like bitter foods. When the spiky vines arrive, the elephants want to eat them. The vines are bitter. Yet, the elephants don't seem to mind. Do they know it is medicine? Do they eat it to stay healthy? I want to find out.

Two elephants work together to move logs.