By Leslie Acta, Semester at Sea 2017

When my alarm went off at 5:00 am on the morning of the 21st of February, there is nothing I wanted to do more than to roll over, turn it off, and then go back to sleep. I haven’t had anything to really get me out of bed so early since arriving in Japan and I really just wanted to keep snuggled into my bed. But then I remembered, today is the day I get to visit the elephants.

 When I first decided to sign up for the Green Hill Valley Elephant Conservation Trip,  I did my own research on the location and found  that the mission of the program is to give comfortable and loving homes to elephants that are retired from the government timber industry. They sometimes lease out elephants from the government that are still working to make sure some elephants get their time to rest and relax away from their forced labor jobs.

We later found out that the location also works with maintaining and planting trees in the area and also recycling the elephant poop to make paper and papier-mâché elephants that they would paint and sell in the gift shop. Even their gift bags were made from the poop paper, thus creating a sustainable product for their guests that take little to no money to create yet brings income to the camp.

You know they are really doing everything they can for and with total focus on the elephants when you first walk up and you see the sign about needing an appointment to come visit. They don’t want hundreds of people a day, they want a few to sustain their income to help, and to continue to educate the visitors. I can tell you it worked. My first experience with an elephant that day was bathing her in the river. I honestly was near tears with how amazing the moment was. Elephants have never been one of my favorite animals, but I just had this sudden overwhelming surge of emotions and I just had the need and want to share my experience. I want to bring my boyfriend here, and my mom and dad here. It was just such an amazing experience that I want everyone I really care about to be able to experience it. It was a very an emotional day and I guess I could say I am very happy I didn’t end up hitting my snooze button that morning.