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Paul O’Grady has a ‘Great Elephant Adventure’ with ITV

ITV

Paul O’Grady has a ‘Great Elephant Adventure’ with ITV

Paul’s final television project begins this weekend…

This two-part series follows the late Paul O’Grady as he travels through Thailand and Laos to celebrate the wonderful work done by elephant conservation centres to rescue, rehabilitate and protect these most majestic, but vulnerable, of animals. Filmed in the months before his sudden and unexpected death, this was Paul’s final TV project and one that he was incredibly passionate about.

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 episode, Paul travels across the region to roll up his sleeves and muck in to help out at a different rescue centre.  Along the way, Paul also heads out from the sanctuaries to grab a slice of local life by exploring nearby colourful markets, temples and apothecaries and trying local cuisine.

The series highlights challenges faced by elephants in the region and as ever, Paul’s love for animals shines throughout. The tone is warm, playful and heartfelt and always characterised by his much-loved wit and humour.

In the opening episode, Paul travels to the hills surrounding the ancient city of Chiang Mai, 400 miles north of Bangkok and known as the elephant capital of Thailand. There are around 7000 elephants in Thailand, around half of which are domesticated and unable to live on their own in the wild. They often lead very tough lives working in the tourism industry and once they get injured or become too old to work, their futures can come under real threat.

ITV

Paul visits The Elephant Nature Park, which is the largest elephant rescue centre in Thailand, providing refuge and a retirement home for ex-working elephants since it was founded over 20 years ago by world renowned conservationist Lek Chailert. The park currently provides sanctuary to 116 elephants who have escaped a hard life’s graft in the logging and tourism industries and Paul is overwhelmed:

“Aren’t they wonderful? This is heaven. I mean, I’m so privileged to get this close to an elephant, you don’t do this every day of your life.”

Most of the elephants are over 65 years old and many of the jungle OAPs have a similar story. They were often used for the logging industry before it was outlawed in 1989. Many were then forced to carry tourists around in riding camps, resulting in significant long-term injuries.

Despite becoming arthritic after years of hard work, female elephant Mae Sri was forced to continue carrying tourists which left her barely able to walk. Paul is horrified by the burns on her legs, where she was burnt with fire to get her to stand. To help ease her aches and pains, every day the vet team treat her wounds and Paul is more than happy to get stuck in to help soothe her arthritis with a Thai massage on her legs.

It’s not all oldies though, and Paul also enjoys helping one-year-old babies Chobah and Pyimee let off steam. The babies were rescued from the circus with their Mum, who had also been used for breeding. Paul enjoys a unique game of football with them, to help keep them stimulated:

“They are so cute, baby elephants. They are like puppies aren’t they? A big puppy. Look at that, not a care in the world. What I love is, they are safe, that’s the thing. No circus for this lot.”

ITV

Paul also meets 75-year-old elephant Dujdao, who needs a daily herbal scrub to soothe her badly inflamed skin and also has to follow a special diet. The elephants munch through 150 kilos of food a day and when they lose their teeth from old age it’s a real issue for the elderly elephants. So the team have come up with a special soft food diet for them and Paul is on dinner duty, helping to wrap mashed bananas and rice into banana leaf parcels, which are then steamed.

“It’s so beautiful here, it’s just a place of refuge for them, where they can come and live out the rest of their days…and the people who work here, they are just remarkable.”

While at the park Paul is also unable to resist paying a visit to the dog rescue centre, which is home to 650 of his beloved canines, most of which have disabilities after being hit by cars or motorbikes and needing special care.

Next, Paul heads to Sukhothai to meet extraordinary British expat Katherine who quit the rat-race in London to set up Boon Lotts 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… While in the area, Paul also pays a visit to the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital, the world’s first ever elephant hospital.  Here he meets the extraordinary elephant Motala, who lost a leg after standing on a land mine.  Now recovered, Paul’s on hand to help take her out for a walk – with the use of an extraordinary prosthetic leg.

Paul O’Grady’s Great Elephant Adventure, ITV1 and STV, tonight at 8 pm

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