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7-year-old elephant Me­Bai hadn't seen her mother in over three years.

But that didn't matter when they were finally reunited. Their bond was immediately visible to everyone watching — and mesmerizing to the millions who tuned in after their video hit the web.


GIF from ElephantNews/YouTube.

Why? Maybe it was the overwhelming cuteness of it all. Maybe it was the incredible story. Or maybe it was the quiet beauty of a creature whose instincts to mother, love, and nurture know no bounds.

But behind the video — before the joyous squeals and the affectionate intertwining of trunks — is a dark and ugly backstory.

Me­Bai was recently rescued from her life as a slave to the Thai tourist industry, where she was forced to carry tourists for hours at a time.


Photo by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images.

There are thousands of others just like her that haven't yet been saved.

Elephants like MeBai are taken from their mothers at an early age and forced to march with heavy tourists strapped to their backs long before their bodies are strong enough to handle the rigors of such a job.

If you want to see how bad it really is, take a look at this photograph. (You probably shouldn't.)

For years and years, they're bull­hooked. They're over­worked. They're underfed.

And worst of all? They might be the lucky ones.

In other parts of the world — parts much closer to home than Thailand — elephants are subject to entirely different kinds of torture.

Photo by Angela N./Flickr.

We think of zoos as conservationist habitats — safe harbors for the hunted and the threatened. But the truth is, many elephants in zoos around the world are kept isolated and alone for years at a time.

It's enough to drive anyone insane.

Elephants are famously mistreated and abused in some of the world's biggest circuses (though it's worth noting that Ringling Bros. has promised to phase out elephant acts by 2018).

The common factor, no matter where these elephants end up, is that if you want to make 6,000­-pound wild animals do your bidding, you first have to snuff out their spirit. You have to break them emotionally, which can cause these gentle creatures to suffer from severe PTSD and depression.

Is the problem too big to overcome? Thanks to organizations like the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand, the answer is a resounding "No."

Spend enough time reading articles or watching graphic videos, and you just might start to feel like the elephants: Hopeless. Overwhelmed. Powerless.

But places like the Elephant Nature Park are doing amazing work, fighting to rescue these majestic animals. And it's helping.

Here's the proof: Kham Paam, a battered but rehabilitated elephant, became a loving nanny to a young member of her new herd at the Elephant Nature Park.

Then there's Seree, another tourist-industry rescue, who joined a brand-new family back in November after escaping a life of hard labor.

And, of course, there's MeBai, seen here with her mother. Reunited at last.

GIF from Elephant News/YouTube.

While elephants like MeBai may never be able to return to the wild, they've been able to find happiness in their new homes.

Because of their unending capacity for love and compassion, somehow they're able to put these atrocities behind them and start again.

This video of Me­Bai reuniting with her mother is, in many ways, proof that love really does conquer all — and that the elephants won't go down without a fight.

As long as some of us are willing to fight along with them.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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