Elephants are matriarchal by nature, forming strong, tight-knit all-female herds, kicking out males when they become of age. In the wild, female elephants only consort with males for reproductive purposes, always returning to the herd.
In the wild, Southeast Asian jungles, herds are typically comprised of only family members. However, in sanctuaries, such as Elephant Nature Park, unrelated female elephants form strong friendships, and even their own herds. While there are many well-known friendships at ENP, such as Jokia and Mae Perm, there is one very special friendship that we can relate to more than others – a lesbian elephant couple.
Tilly is around 30 years old and has been living at Elephant Nature Park for about three years. Before her rescue, she spent many years in the trekking industry and, given the fact that she has a dislocated hip, was most likely a victim of a forced breeding program. She pretty much keeps to herself and doesn’t want/need friends beyond her beloved Mae Kham Puan.
Meet Mae Kham Puan
Mae Kham Puan is in her late 30’s and has been living at Elephant Nature Park for three and a half years. In her early life, she was forced to work in the illegal logging industry, and later became a trekking elephant. Mae Kham Puan has an independent personality and is quite the social butterfly. She has many friends at the park, with whom she enjoys spending time when she is not with Tilly.
Girls are Made of Spice and Everything Nice
While the other female elephants at Elephant Nature Park swoon over the males, pay them numerous social visits and flirt with them, neither Tilly nor Mae Kham Puan give the young bulls, Hope and Jungle Boy, the slightest bit of their attention. In fact, their reaction to anything male, such as discovering bull elephant poop, is exactly the opposite: Tilly and Mae Kham Puan will repel in disgust, confusion and even fear. For at least 15 minutes, they will discuss and comfort each other over the stress caused by a pile of dung. They clearly want nothing to do with bulls, and will happily live a male-free life.
Further distinguishing Tilly and Mae Kham Puan from other friendships at the sanctuary is that there is a sexual component to their relationship. They often go to the river, where the taller Mae Kham Puan will get into a sphinx-like position in the water, allowing Tilly to mount her. It is clearly intended to be intimate and private, as they will not engage in such behavior if there are other elephants around, or even a large group of people.
Flirting and Jealousy
Mae Kham Puan, being more social and independent, enjoys spending time with her friends. Tilly, on the other hand, being more clingy and dependent, would prefer Mae Kham Puan all to herself and gets quite jealous when her beloved companion spends time away from her. To make matters harder for Tilly, Mae Kham Puan often flirts with her girlfriends, openly displaying her affection for them. Elephants do this by trunk draping.
It doesn’t take long before Tilly’s jealousy gets the best of her and she inches her way to the outskirts of Mae Kham Puan’s group of friends, where she will pout and complain. Eventually, Mae Kham Puan will say goodbye to her friends and rejoin Tilly.