Before I could register the danger, I felt a massive weight on my ribcage. It felt like a truck was driving over me

As my 70th birthday approached, I decided to make a start on my bucket list and booked a two-week adventure volunteering at a Thai elephant sanctuary. I remembered a magical encounter years ago with an elephant in Kerala: at the end of the day, she had laid down to rest and let me clamber over her, scrubbing her clean with a coconut shell. Elephants are extraordinary creatures; I’m fascinated by their intelligence, empathy and strong family relationships. I had been sad to read about the abuse they suffer at the hands of the tourism industry in countries such as Thailand.

In preparation for my trip, I took up weight training and a high protein diet; there was hard work and extreme heat ahead, and I was determined not to succumb to creaky joints and fatigue. I even visited the elephant house at Whipsnade zoo; a keeper told me the tourist elephants were the ones to watch – years of maltreatment made them unpredictable and sometimes malevolent. Hardly surprising, I thought.

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