Alternative Livelihoods & Elephant Rescue Thailand

 
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Common Nawab spotted in the village
Common Nawab spotted in the village

We hope this report finds you well. The biodiversity project is officially up and running on the Thai Elephant Reintroduction Project in Huay Pakoot. The main focus of the project is elephant reintroduction into the surrounding forests, but establishing the local biodiversity is of equal importance to conservation of the surrounding area. Proposals Submitted for camera traps to be purchased and placed in the forest in order to capture nocturnal and allusive wildlife. The funding was approved in January and the cameras are scheduled to arrive within the next few weeks.  GVI will work with the local villages who are keen to help place the cameras in prime local wildlife hotspots.  

In addition to the camera traps, night hikes commenced on the 16th of Jan and are a now a weekly activity; guided by one of the very experienced locals who brings a wealth of information to the local biodiversity.  Each hike lasts approximately roughly 2 and a half hours covering dense forest and waterways.

The night hikes provide the opportunity for volunteers and staff to experience the forest in a completely unique way. The volunteers have enjoyed the hikes deeply; eye shine has been spotted for either a giant black squirrel or flying squirrel and barking deer. Animals encountered include amphibians, the same sleeping bird on each hike and the illusive porcupine tracks.

Other opportunities to look for biodiversity include an alternative hike to the elephant hike on a Wednesday morning. This involves either hiking to the caves or along the river, giving volunteers a chance to see a different part of the forest and look for biodiversity in new areas. Birds and insects have been spotted. Volunteers are now encouraged to actively identify all species spotted on all hikes (including ele hikes). They are also encouraged to partake in bird watching before hikes.  Establishing the local biodiversity of the local area gives the project a unique opportunity to observe the wealth of wildlife which inhabit the densely forested area, and can greatly contribute to the long term sustainability of the forest. 

Have you considered furthering your contribution to this project? Until March 28th GlobalGiving are offering a one-time 100% match of all new recurring donations! Help us help the team in Thailand & be a recurring donor today!

Learning from the locals
Learning from the locals

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With his loyal and loving mother, Boon Jan
With his loyal and loving mother, Boon Jan

I hope that everyone had a fantastic new year and I wish it was with better news that I am writing the first report for our Thailand Elephant project in 2013. We have some new initiatives we wish to move forward with following a tragic accident on the project, for which your past and hopefully, future donations will be much needed. Whilst this is a long report, we wanted to give you as much details as possible, as without your support, we are unable to stop these incidents happening.

Our two and a half year old male calf, Song Kran, passed away on the 10 January. He got a hold of some very toxic pesticides on Sunday, 6 Jan which had been left out by locals in a field in our forest. On Monday’s hike it was a call for alarm when he defecated blue liquid. After asking some questions, Song Kran’s mahout showed the GVI team an empty bottle of paraquat dichloride. This pesticide had been banned in the United States for some time, but has more recently been allowed back in.

A vet arrived around 7 pm Monday evening. Song Kran was given fluid intravenously while we waited for a truck to transport him and his mother, Boon Jan, to the government run hospital in Lampang, an hour outside of Chiang Mai. The team arrived around 7 am Tuesday morning. However, the vet woke our Thai Elephants Project Manager, Nadia at 1 am Thursday morning to say goodbye to Song Kran. The pesticide shut down his kidneys, liver then nervous system, burned his mouth and oesophagus and entered his lungs. Below is an excerpt from Nadia:

It was heart wrenching to see him fight, he should be so proud of himself. Boon Jan is my hero, she was at his side every moment of these past few days, tenderly touching him with her trunk and legs, I never once saw her sleep. Any time they put food down on the other end of the enclosure she’d drag it over to be near him while she ate. Understandably she is not doing well, the whole week has been inexplicably traumatic for her and she’s been severely affected. The vets want to wait a few days before she endures the seven hour journey in the truck back to the village. She will hopefully return home to the forest and the rest of the herd on Sunday. I will keep everyone updated upon her return back to the village. Out of respect for everything she’s been through I believe she should have lots of recovery time without any visitors.

Funds donated to this project will go directly to the following:

  • We need a clinic in the field along with First aid medications. This will include a truck loading area in case we need to transport any of our other elephants to receive medical care.
  • Second, we need introduce a project dealing with education and alternatives to pesticides. We are in contact with an organization that has successfully worked with other hill-tribe villages in this area helping to promote the use of natural pesticides and sustainable agricultural practices. We are also hoping to collaborate with a distributor of natural pesticides. Realistically we need to provide our village with alternatives and methods rather than hoping that they will make the right decision amongst themselves.
  • Lastly, but most importantly, our mahouts and elephant owners need adequate training on elephant medical care and first aid response from trained professionals. Keeping in mind that they are the elephant experts in a traditional sense, with modern introductions to their traditional ways like, for example, needing elephants to board trucks, they need expertise from other locals on a more thoughtful, effective, humane way of handling elephants. This will help us to ensure the safest, most effective and least harmful practices are carried out for all involved – keeping in mind the high intelligence and sensitivity of elephants.

With your help we can move forward with these plans to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again. We appreciate that this is very upsetting news for many people, especially those who have volunteered with GVI in Thailand and personally knew Song Kran. We are all mourning him. Thank you for reading this long report and please do get in touch if you have any questions. 

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Sa Cha and Mario
Sa Cha and Mario

Due to the generosity of our donors, we have been supporting two elephants living in the forest for 6 months and have begun the setup of a community based tourism initiative.

Every single day for the next six months, Sa Cha and her young calf Mario will be roaming freely in the forests surrounding the village of Huay Pakoot. Asian elephants are an endangered species (IUCN) and with less than 1000 wild elephants left in Thailand, the future of the captive elephant population is of critical importance. This project focuses on the wellbeing of the elephants by bringing them out of work in the tourist camps to a natural life in the forest.

Sa Cha is 36 years old.  She started working in the fields at the age of 15 years old.  More recently she has been working in tourist camps in and around Chiang Mai.  Sa Cha became pregnant with Mario (2 years 8 months) in an elephant camp where he was born.  The mother and son are now back in Huay Pakoot enjoying daily foraging in the forests where their job is to “just be elephants”!

This group is run by a committee of 10 villagers who, thanks to this donation, are now able to begin setting up their own “grass roots”, community based tourism operation. This venture has firm foundations in ethical elephant treatment, sustainability and conservation education, protection and promotion of the cultural heritage and traditions of this Karen village. By the village - for the village, the elephants and the future! 

Thank you again for your support!

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Since GVI’s elephant forest reintroduction started in the village of Huay Pakoot 2 years ago, volunteers, staff and elephant lovers everywhere have been working hard to raise money through charitable donations to bring more elephants back to the forest. GVI sponsors 5 elephants directly through volunteer fees but with a village of approximately 60 elephants in total, 5 elephants is only a small chunk of the elephants still remaining in tourist camps around Chiang Mai and northern Thailand. The community is committed to bringing more elephants back to the forest but funding is required to provide work and salaries for elephant owners and mahouts. Through online fundraising, volunteer donations and the 2011 marathon in Chiang Mai the GVI team has raised thousands of dollars towards this mission. And we are proud to say that the number of rescued elephants is finally increasing!
In May 2012, the community of Huay Pakoot officially registered as a community conservation group with the Mae Chaem district office. Through this registration they have committed to working towards bringing elephants back to the forest and utilizing community based tourist projects based around the reintroduced elephants to further increase funding. Tourist activities include home stays with traditional Karen families, learning about culture and food and hiking in surrounding forests to see these elephants foraging, wandering and just basically being elephants in a natural setting.
In August 2012, GVI signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Huay Pakoot Community Conservation group, a document which symbolizes their partnership moving forward to develop sustainable tourism and bringing in more rescued elephants.
Beginning 15 September 2012, GVI has committed to an initial 6 months of funding towards the community conservation group, a total of US$2,000. This funding should cover the costs of keeping Sa Cha and her son Mario in the forest of Huay Pakoot as well as provide extra funds to be used for any necessary medical treatment or other costs the conservation group need to move things forward. We currently have funds to sponsor these elephants for the first couple of years but still need more to bring in more elephants!
Sa Cha is 36 years old. She started working in the fields at the age of 15 years old. More recently she has been working in tourist camps in and around Chiang Mai. Sa Cha became pregnant with Mario in an elephant camp where he was born. Mario is 2 years 8 months and the mother and son are back in Huay Pakoot enjoying daily foraging in the forests and enjoying some time just being elephants without having to work!

Since 2010, GVI volunteers have been supporting a traditional elephant-keeping community’s efforts to bring their elephants out of tourist camps and have them return to live in the forest.

In addition to the work directly with elephants, GVI supports the community of Huay Pakoot in a number of other ways. These initiatives such as new small business creation, advice and financial support for an ethical ecotourism venture and community English classes, give both immediate benefits and lay the foundation for a sustainable future that is not reliant on the exploitation of elephants.

Through this partnership with GVI, the elephant keepers of Huay Pakoot are setting a fresh example that prioritizes the needs of elephants and sets a wonderful, sustainable example of alternatives in elephant management.

GVI staff and volunteers provide access to free English tuition at the request of the community. This tuition, both formal and informal, reaches a wide range of people. It includes English language games at the preschool, classes at the primary school, one on one’s with adults and an evening class twice per week with the mahouts (elephant handlers).

This ‘mahout English’ class is going really well at the moment. It is held after dinner at the home of Pattie Saiee, our most experienced mahout. It typically involves 5-6 official attendees who are learning practical, conversational phrases that help them communicate in the field. However, in the background of this class (the doorways, the kitchen, and the house next door...) there are other friends and family members listening, watching, laughing, and throwing in some phrases of their own. The atmosphere is very supportive for these mahouts, young and old, who are learning transferable skills in the language of tourism that will help them and their community engage on their own terms into the future.

Despite being highly endangered, around 3000 Asian elephants in Thailand are captive and live out their lives working in tourist camps: giving rides and performing in circus shows. Generally the management strategies of these camps focus on providing maximum enjoyment for tourists thereby maximizing profit, however it is the elephants’ social needs and natural foraging behaviour that bear the cost. GVI continues to forge sustainable, ethical alternatives to current management practices and increase the odds of survival for the Asian elephant.

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Project Leader

Sophie Birkett

GVI Charitable Trust Manager
Exeter, Devon United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Alternative Livelihoods & Elephant Rescue Thailand