Twenty-six-year-old Wok has been caring for Nong Mai since she was three. Nong Mai is one of 35 captive elephants in Wok's village in north-eastern Thailand. Here, the traditions of elephant keeping have been passed down from generation to generation - but now they're quickly fading.
Wok is Nong Mai's mahout, her keeper. They are inseparable. They play together. They bathe together. And they beg together. It's illegal to street beg with elephants in Thailand, but Wok and his family need the money. Mired in debt, street begging with Nong Mai has become the family business.
Leaving his village, Wok hopefully wanders the streets of Bangkok with Nong Mai, day after day, peddling sugar cane to people who want to feed the elephant. But only a few buy; many shun him. Others scold him for dragging an elephant into the city, echoing what many believe to be true - that elephants do not belong in the city, in captivity. They belong in the wild, free.
The truth is, despite their wild and potentially dangerous nature, elephants have been ingrained in Asian culture for thousands of years - a bond built on traditional knowledge and spiritual reverence. Yet today this bond is challenged: with fewer than 45,000 Asian elephants left on Earth, they are officially an endangered species. Most elephants in Thailand are forced into the $40-billion-a-year tourism trade. Illegal tusks are rampantly smuggled into the country, elevating Thailand to one of the biggest markets for the global ivory trade. And the growing human population continues to trespass into elephant habitats. A century ago, more than 100,000 elephants roamed freely in Thailand's lush forests. Today, only 4,000 remain - 2,800 of which are captive.
But a remarkable organization in Thailand is fighting to change that. Since 2002, it has been releasing captive elephants into vast, protected, wild forest habitats within Thailand that are off-limits to humans. And it now has its eye on Nong Mai. Separating Nong Mai from Wok won't be easy. Living without her would be like 'having no hands or feet,' says Wok. But he can no longer make a living from street begging. The challenges of keeping Nong Mai in his rural village are too difficult. Wok must let her go.
Once in the forest, Nong Mai adjusts to her newfound freedom in no time, showing that, despite imminent threats to the survival of Asian elephants, a happy ending for one may offer hope for all. Watch free movie drama, adventure, documentary When Elephants Were Young (2016) online in FreeMovies4k.org.