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Paul O'Grady’s Great Elephant Adventure

Duration: 2 x 52'

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This series celebrates the wonderful work done by elephant conservation centres in Thailand and Laos that rescue, rehabilitate and protect these most majestic, but vulnerable, of animals.  

Thailand has the largest number of elephant rescue centres in the world, while Laos is nicknamed the ‘land of a million elephants’, and in each stand-alone episode, media personality Paul O'Grady travels across the region to roll up his sleeves and muck in to help out at a different rescue centre.  Along the way, the programme also heads out from the sanctuaries to look at the local life by exploring nearby colourful markets, temples and apothecaries.  

Episode 1: This series starts in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, an area that’s home to over half the country’s 3,000 domesticated elephants.  It’s also home to Thailand’s largest elephant rescue centre – the Elephant Nature Park, run by world renowned conservationist Lek Chailert.  The park provides sanctuary to 120 elephants who have escaped a hard life’s graft in the logging and tourism industries.

Over 70% of elephants are over 65 and so this episode focuses primarily on helping these jungle OAPs cope with their various aches, pains and ailments at this super-sized retirement home.  Among the old ladies is 70-year old Mae Sri, who’s struggling with her arthritis, and 82-year old Dujdao who needs a daily herbal scrub to soothe her badly inflamed skin.  

It’s not all oldies here though, and Paul also enjoys helping one-year old babies Chobah and Pyimee let off steam, while he also can’t resist paying a visit to the ENP dog rescue centre, which is home to 600 of his favourite canines.  

Next, Paul heads to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, the country’s biggest wildlife hospital.  Based near Hua Hin, many of the elephants have been rescued from ‘entertainment camps’, where they were forced to perform for tourists, or work tirelessly in trekking camps to take holidaymakers for a ride.

Here lives Jum Nong, who is scarred both physically and mentally from a lifetime working in the tourist trade – she now has trouble sleeping so Paul sets to work making her a comfy bed to hopefully help her get some shut eye. A medical check-up takes place on 37-year old Pun, who was used for forced breeding – Paul soon falls in love with Pun and when he hears it is her birthday, he can’t resist making her a super-sized birthday cake.

Aside from elephants, the WFFT rescues a huge array of wild animals and this programme gets exclusive access to meet their newest arrivals – 11 Bengal tigers rehomed from a local zoo.  They include 20-year old Susu who has arrived with a limp, so the team take her into hospital for a full check up and x-ray.   

Episode 2: In this episode, Paul’s heads to Sukhothai to meet extraordinary British expat Katherine who quit the rat-race in London to set up Boon Lott's Elephant sanctuary in rural Thailand 15 years ago.  This stunning 500-acre jungle playground is home to her nine elephants, and she takes on the challenge of teaching Paul how to become a mahout, an elephant handler.  

Charged with looking after three of Katherine's elephants, aka the Gossip Girls who all have foot problems that need constant attention, Paul is also given a crash course on how to use a machete, as well as learning the unusual vocabulary that man and elephant share – to mixed results...

Also in Sukhothai are the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital, the world’s first ever elephant hospital.  Among the extraordinary elephants here is Motala, who lost a leg after standing on a landmine.  Now recovered, Paul’s on hand to help take her out for a walk – with the use of an extraordinary prosthetic leg.

The journey ends in neighbouring Laos – it’s nicknamed the ‘land of million elephants’ but in reality, there are now less than 800 left in the country.  To help arrest this startling decline in numbers, Paul heads to the Elephant Conservation Centre in northern Laos that is home to the country’s only breeding programme.

Set in the heart of the jungle, Paul arrives by longboat and soon sets to work honing his elephant midwife skills by overseeing the ovulation tests for some of the centre's thirty females, before he then plays match-maker to a young bull elephant meeting a new date.  This episode also shows the heart-warming signs of a positive future that lies ahead for elephant numbers in Laos sharing the ECC’s two most precious residents – babies Phu Noy and Mae Noy.

The elephant odyssey ends in a stunning Bacci ceremony, a religious ritual overseen by a local shaman to help bring good luck and fortune for the future of the Asian elephant.

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What the Press Say:

The Telegraph - ****


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