Shortly after a much beloved working elephant died of exhaustion, this Swiss entrepreneur knew she had found a new purpose: One that would take her far away -and indefinitely- from her home back in Switzerland. This is a story of courage, determination and inner strength. This is Lena’s story and the birth of her organization, Association Moey.
Many of us have met people in our lives who have had a huge impact in our work, our decisions and our journey. Fewer have had a similar experience with animals. It is extraordinary to say the least; but as I see it, it takes a special kind of person -and encounter- to make the connection between their soul and ours.
Before moving overseas, Lena spent 30 years working in various medical and holistic practices, including ten years in a palliative care unit. A caregiver by training, Lena also graduated in reflexology and massage therapy. These skills would later be put to use on not only humans but with ill working elephants in Asia.
As someone who has spent a big deal of time in Asia, it seemed obvious that Lena’s interest in living overseas was but a given. Still, I wanted to know if she always wanted to live in a different country or if this desire came as an adult. This is what she said.
“ I always knew I would. I always felt the call of adventure - animals, nature and the wild. My father was French, my mother Swedish; I was born in Paris and grew up in Switzerland with an older brother. We were lucky to travel to many countries when we were children.
I first travelled to Nepal in 1991. There, I had a vision as I was walking in Kathmandu Valley. I looked into the bright blue sky and an elderly Nepali lady with a red hat and very wrinkled skin was looking out of a window down at me. She was watching me with a kind gentle smile. At that moment I knew - someday I would return to Nepal.
When I was a child, my parents had an old black and white TV in their room with only 3 channels, and it sizzled a little. I remember that it was necessary to carefully handle the antenna since a very small movement could improve or aggravate the image.
On a Sunday afternoon, my older brother was watching Formula 1 on the new color TV in the living room. I felt it was very boring, the sound of noisy cars going around in circles for hours with the occasional accident. My brother would not share the new TV with me and sent me to our parent’s old one. Their room was a little dark, it had the feeling of the unknown ... I sat on my parent’s bed and watched Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan on that old black and white TV. I was mesmerized. He could speak to and understand animals. He defended them against foreign hunters.
So, at the age of 6 or 7, I decided I would leave and go to Africa and live the same life as Tarzan. I made a list of what I would need there and I remember I wrote torch and batteries. My plan was to run away and hitchhike to Marseille in the south of France. From there, I would stowaway on a ship, which would take me to Africa.”
Nepal is located in South Asia, very far from where Lena thought she’d end up living. However; believe it or not, the torch and the batteries are still needed there - especially in Sauraha - a rural town in the South of Nepal where power outages and floods are not uncommon.
Living in that part of the country is not easy and caring for an elephant isn’t either. After seeing the opportunity to help Lucky Kali, a 60 year-old working elephant, Lena didn’t hesitate and worked really hard to raise funds and to find a suitable place to provide a temporary new home for her.
Lena’s work involves a lot of physical strength and manual labor. She provides elephant foot care for Lucky Kali and other elephants in need. She has to daily find areas where to collect fresh green grass (also known as elephant grass) and organize the pick up of the fodder, as well as of a diversity of natural food like branches, bamboos, banana trees, etc. Other tasks include cleaning the stable and removing the manure and maintaining Lucky’s corral and roof as well. Lena also leads the walk with their guests and explains the intricacies of the elephant’s every day life. Watch her in action on her YouTube channel.
So, what are some of those rewards that Lena Quénard has found while living in a very different setting and doing something than most of us don’t do? In her words:
“It is an intense and rich journey of creation, with the most amazing guides: the elephants.
Despite many ups and downs, I knew I had work to do in Nepal. I accepted without understanding all, but knew I must follow the call of my soul.
I had the chance to meet Carol Buckley who became a mentor. Studying with her for years in Nepal and Thailand learning to trim elephant’s feet, led to finally rescuing Lucky Kali, a 60 year old working elephant in Sauraha.
By far, the most rewarding part is seeing Lucky Kali roaming free from chains and the trekking seat that was once her burden. She is now enjoying her autonomy, with the mighty Himalayas as a backdrop. Despite the challenges I have faced, when I see Lucky Kali like this, my heart swells and I know I have made the right choice.”
You can imagine the many challenges that a woman living in the countryside in one of the poorest countries in the world can face. But what do they really look like? What have those been like for this expat entrepreneur?
“Living in a country with a language not your own, can create many challenges and misunderstandings. Adapting to cultural traditions, learning how to make your way and do what you feel is right, but do it in a way that is in alignment with the culture, takes a lot of patience. I sometimes struggle with this.
In 2017 when I leased and retired Lucky Kali - that was a challenge! An explosion of learning experiences followed her rescue. I wanted to give the best to Lucky, show her deep respect and protect her. I knew exactly what was good for her and how to build the right team around her, but – this was sometimes easier said than done.”
In The Elephant Soul we frequently talk about pursuing our passions. This is the driving force that takes our otherwise-good-and-normal-expat experiences to a new level of fulfillment. So how exactly did Lena decided to give her passion a chance?
“As far as I can remember, I have felt at one with animals and nature. Their pain was my pain - their joy too. I understood the interconnectedness of all beings and the earth. To me, the realm of animals and nature is pure bliss and light. As a child, I found the human world sometimes cold and dark. I strongly felt the need to protect animals from people and dreamed about creating a place where they would be safe. I always knew this place would exist in a far- off land.
In May 2012 during a trip to Thailand, I met Moey, a female elephant. After years of harsh labor in the tourist industry, Moey was worn out and as such she was sent back to her owner. I was deeply moved by her situation. Moey never left my thoughts. Upon returning home I was determined to do everything in my power to find a place where she could live a dignified life. It was a long journey to raise sufficient funds to save her. Tragically, she passed away three months later, the consequence of an exhausting, deprived and stressful life.
I am sad that she could not spend more time in her new life, but having spent several weeks at Moey’s side after her rescue, I can tell you that the sparkle returned to her eyes and she touched the hearts of all who met her. By helping Moey we set her free from a life of slavery. She could savor freedom and end her life in a better place. I then created Moey Association in her memory.”
Lena Quénard has closely seen a lot of hardship and sadness throughout the years. Without allowing that to stop her mission in life, it was not surprising that Lena has a powerful message to share with other expat women who want to pursue their passions. This is her advice:
“Trust your intuition! Keep in mind it’s a learning process. Surrender to the difficulties, remember your vision/dream and keep trusting. Be patient. Make sure you have a few good friends who can lift you up and give you moral support during the hard times.”
I personally liked that last part about having good friends to support you when those trying times inevitably arrive. Having a tribe and a spiritual practice to keep us going is essential in this transient lifestyle. Having been through a tragedy as the Nepal 2015 earthquake, those friends around me made such disaster less traumatizing. Spirituality was the other driving force that kept me going. On that note, I asked Lena what are some of the practices or rituals that she incorporates into her daily routine. This is what she said:
“Meditation. I often fast when facing difficulties to gain more clarity. Walking with my dog Lucky. Spending time in nature. Trusting that the universe will provide.”
That deep understanding of a spiritual entity looking after us is so reassuring, isnt’ it? Personally I feel the same reassurance. Knowing that I will be guided and given the tools I need to cope helps a big deal when facing fear and grief.
Lena’s story is inspiring in so many ways. It is admirable how she selflessly helps others, works hard towards a greater good in spite of the hardships and obstacles, devotes herself to a wild animal with all the responsibility this entails. This article in the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, describes Lena Quénard as someone who left everything for elephants. It has been a real honor having her on The Elephant Soul.
When Lena is not busy looking after Lucky Kali, she enjoys long walks in the forest or to a beautiful lake with her friends and their dogs. And although Lena loves the perfume of tea and the memories it brings, she rarely drinks it. At the moment she is spending a short time in Thailand looking after her other Lucky, an old street dog that has found a way into her heart. Not difficult to imagine how that happened.
If you’d like to make a donation or to tell your friends about the wonderful work this courageous woman is doing, please visit her organization’s website . You can also follow her on facebook and Instagram. If you have the opportunity to visit Nepal and meet Lucky Kali - Sauraha’s first retired elephant - check this itinerary. For more information on Association Moey and Lucky Kali see below.
About Association Moey
Thanks to the hands-on experience Lena attained through her years of work and volunteering in places like Laos, India, Thailand and Nepal, she is able to provide the proper care to elephants in need through her nonprofit organization, Association Moey. The mentorship she received from Elephant Aid International and their ongoing education and good relationship have allowed Lena to dive deeper into elephant conservation and captive elephant welfare.
Association Moey has a groundbreaking approach with captive elephants, something unseen in other places in Chitwan, Nepal: Non-direct contact, no bathing for tourist purposes but instead, encouraging guests to observe and appreciate Lucky Kali from a respectful distance.
This nonprofit also raises awareness through education and compassionate care. Similarly, it provides assistance to other elephants in need that haven’t been fortunate enough to be retired –yet. In fact, they have an emergency rescue fund to help these working animals when unforeseen situations arise. You can donate here.
About Lucky Kali
Lucky Kali worked first in India in the logging industry and then was sold to work carrying tourists in Nepal. Thanks to Lena’s wise intervention, she managed to rescue Lucky Kali before she would be sold back to India to end her life chained, working outside a temple.
In her new life, Lucky Kali spends her days living peacefully in retirement. What exactly does that look like, one may ask. Her mornings start with an early walk into the grasslands where she is able to enjoy her time at her own pace. She will play in the river as much as she wants. Then she goes into her chain-free corral where she can rest or relax as she pleases while her mahouts are having their lunch.
In the afternoons, Lucky Kali goes back into the grasslands, scratching trees and swimming again - without rush or worry - until the evening comes. She then sleeps safely and comfortable in her corral, free from chains. She is given plenty of nutritious food including fresh green grass, banana trees, bamboo, branches, leaves, and elephant “sandwiches”, which consist of molasses, chickpeas, salt, vitamin and grass.
Thanks to Association Moey and Lena’s team, Lucky Kali takes time to herself to be the beautiful elephant she was always meant to be.
A note from Lena Quénard: Lena would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people and supporters who have contributed to Association Moey’s efforts to provide Lucky Kali with a brighter future, filled with compassion and happiness. There are too many people to name, so through this interview she would like to express her immense gratitude and appreciation to each one of them .