THE EYES OF THAILAND DOCUMENTARY SYNOPSIS
‘The Eyes of Thailand‘ is the inspirational and powerful story of one woman’s quest to help two elephant landmine survivors—Motala and Baby Mosha—walk on their own four legs. Treating their wounds was only part of the journey; building elephant-sized prostheses was another. Narrated by Ashley Judd, ‘The Eyes of Thailand‘ is a true story of sacrifice and perseverance that shows how far one woman will go to save an endangered species from threats above and below the surface.
Soraida Salwala’s love for elephants began early. When she was 8-years old, Soraida saw an injured elephant lying on the side of the road because it had been hit by a truck. As her family drove past, they heard a gunshot. Soraida asked her father what happened. He said not to worry because Uncle Elephant was in heaven now. Perplexed, Soraida asked, ‘If the elephant was hurt, why couldn’t he go to the hospital?’ No one could answer her.
In 1993, Soraida opened the World’s First Asian Elephant Hospital, operated by Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) to treat elephants who were ill or injured from work, abuse or neglect. Six years later, Soraida and FAE faced it’s most difficult challenge: how to save an adult elephant who stepped on a landmine.
Motala, now a 50-year old Asian Elephant, stepped on a landmine in 1999 while she and her mahout (owner) were logging along the Burmese border. Although the explosion shattered her front leg, she walked for three days to arrive at FAE’s Elephant Hospital. Seeing the strength and will to survive in Motala’s eyes, Soraida refused to euthanize her and—together with the help of Dr. Preecha (FAE’s Head Veterinarian) and Dr. Therdchai (a human orthopedist)—she embarked on a 10-year journey to help Motala walk again on her own four legs.
Unfortunately, news of Motala’s injury did not curb elephant landmine accidents. In 2006, Mosha stepped on a landmine when she was 7-months old. Her injuries healed faster than Motala’s, and in June 2008, Dr. Therdchai and the Prostheses Foundation helped Mosha walk again by building her an elephant-sized prosthetic. Seeing Mosha walk on her own reignited Soraida’s quest to help Motala walk, blissfully hoping that one day Mosha and Motala could walk together on their prostheses.
Where others would have given up, Soraida says she continues to fight because ‘the elephants cannot fight, they cannot speak, so I am speaking on their behalf’. One look at Soraida with her patients and there is no question that they share a strong bond; she, too, knows what it is like to suffer, as she lives with several debilitating illnesses and walks with canes.
However, her health concerns come secondary to her elephants, especially when the Prostheses Foundation is building Motala’s first prosthetic leg—10 years after she stepped on a landmine. Witnessing this emotional moment, Soraida shares, ‘Some people say we wasted our time, to save just one life. But to me, no. It’s been 10 years and every second of it has been so valuable.’
Despite the immense obstacles, Soraida fought for Motala’s life and on August 16, 2009, Motala took her first steps on her new prosthetic limb. ‘I don’t want any elephant to be hurt,’ Soraida says, as tears fill her eyes. ‘I’d rather have an elephant hospital without any patients. I hope that day will come’.
To date, Mosha and Motala are still using their prostheses to walk on their own, under supervision, at the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) Hospital in Lampang, Thailand.