Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story debuted on the big screen in Santa Barbara. Th is documentary film is about herds of elephants in Thailand and a woman named Sangdeaun “Lek” Chailert, who has devoted her life to rescuing these amazing animals. Lek joined fi lm maker and actress Ashley Bell on a panel discussion after the film with our own local elephant advocate Kristina McKean.

Love and Bananas was made to help spread awareness about the mistreatment of elephants in Thailand and all over Asia. In this documentary, Bell, an American actress, travels to Thailand to meet Lek and she takes part in the risky rescue of a blind, 70-year old elephant, Noi Nah.

The film opens with Bell meeting and playing with the elephants at Lek’s sanctuary. When Bell realizes how major this situation is, she decides to come back and help rescue (and film) the journey to save Noi Nah. The moviemakers take a trek to Chiang Mai to get Noi Nah from an elephant camp that mistreats their animals. We learn all about the terrible ways elephants are kept and trained, and we see first-hand just how sensitive and smart elephants are; in many ways, they are much like people.

The camp in Chiang Mai keeps their elephants chained up at all times. Elephant keepers use bull hooks, cages, and other cruel ways to try to control and domesticate these massive animals. Because Noi Nah is sick, Lek convinces the owner of the camp to allow her to take Noi Nah for rescue. In the end, Lek even convinces the owner to convert his entire camp into a sanctuary where the elephants can roam free.

Many of the elephants we see in the movie have never in their entire lifetime been off a chain. They have so many scars from the bull hooks and punishment (my mom was crying through these parts of the film). Bell and Lek drive 70 miles through Thailand with Noi Nah in the back of a truck to free her. The film helps us to better understand the pain and suffering these animals endure when they are kept for entertainment purposes. Noi Nah now happily lives on Lek’s sanctuary.

I have been to Thailand and I visited an elephant sanctuary called the Elephant Nature Park. There, elephants are treated with care, and they roam and play throughout the day. My family and I spent a whole day with the elephants in the Nature Park. We brushed them, fed them, and even swam in the river with them. I got to see and feel just how much elephants love being treated with kindness.

Spending time with elephants was a lot like when I spend time with my dog, George. When we were brushing them, we were taught Th ai words to talk to them and they loved it. We had a mother and a baby that we cared for during our day at the sanctuary. Th e baby loved to try to sit on our laps. My dad got smashed by a baby who was rolling around on his lap. It was so funny. I got to really understand just how intelligent elephants are.

Now, having watched the documentary Love & Bananas, I know how free and happy the elephant herds are in the sanctuary because they are treated with kindness and respect. Love & Bananas shows us the reality for many of the elephants that are held in captivity. We need to expose the cruel behavior and strive to protect and love all elephants. As Lek Chailert said,”You don’t need a bull hook to control an elephant. All you need to guide an elephant is love… and bananas.”

Love, E

E’S P.S.

Do you want to help the elephants? I hope you do! Please be sure to watch Love & Bananas on iTunes or Google Play. Go to the website for access: www. loveandbananas.com. At the end of the fi lm, you can find out how to donate to Lek and her foundation. Also, be sure to check out www.theelephantproject.com. Kristina McKean has the cutest handmade stuff ed elephants for adoption, and all of the proceeds go to supporting foundations that help to keep the elephants wild and free. Use the code ‘savetheelephants’ when you order Kiki or Tembo from the Elephant Project and receive 10 percent off .