Although highly endangered, many Asia elephants live out their lives working in tourist camps: giving rides and performing in circus shows. Generally the management strategies of these camps are structured to provide maximum enjoyment for tourists thus maximizing profit, but this does not typically bode well for the elephants working there. On our Thai Elephant project, we are helping a traditional elephant-keeping community return their elephants to live in the forest, where they can socialise naturally and forage on native plants. We are happy to celebrate the 2nd birthday of one of these lucky elephants, Song Kran.
Song Kran’s mother, Boon Jan, was working in tourism before she became pregnant. Her owner is from the traditional elephant-keeping community of Huay Pakoot, and, understanding the importance of a varied diet and social bonding for elephants, he brought Boon Jan away from work to live in the forest while she came to term. Song Kran was born in the forests surrounding their village - and has never left. There is much to celebrate with Song Kran turning 2 years old on 13 April 2012. Song Kran embodies the objectives of this project, to allow captive elephants to live naturally in the forest. As the project continues to prove its effectiveness, we look forward to a long life for Song Kran free from ever stepping foot inside a working camp.
It is extremely difficult to raise healthy infant elephants in captivity. An elephant’s gestation period is 22 months and a newborn calf must nurse for up to 4 years. In the wild, Asian elephants form highly sophisticated social groups and exhibit allomothering – which means a mother relies on support from other adult females in raising her calf. Today in a typical tourism facility, Asian elephants are not allowed to form social bonds, naturally raise their young, or choose what they eat – with detrimental consequences to their ability to raise healthy and happy calves.
Our Thai elephant project aims to impact the management of Thailand’s highly accessible yet still endangered population of 3000 captive elephants, by empowering an indigenous community to keep their elephants in the forest and care for them with traditional and more natural methods. This project has been documenting the social and foraging behaviour of elephants allowed to roam in the forest since July 2010, and continues to seek new alternatives to increase the odds of survival for the Asian elephant.
Last week saw a particularly stunningly hike with the elephants into the forests surrounding Huay Pakoot village. In one of the first hikes through the corn fields after the slash and burn land management fires have been passed through and it allowed us a dramatically different view from what we had been hiking through only weeks before. What was once tall corn laden stalks dwarfing the valley below was now flat, blackened earth, still smoking from the fires, the charred soil ready to regenerate and spring into life with new planting. The hike was looking good from the first few steps. Following the elephants through the fields we were joined by a talkative group of excited villagers eager to explain that they were off to catch fish that are in abundance at the moment in a nearby stream.
Following the elephants further into the forest, the groups were all in fantastic spirits and when the elephants took off with speed down past the cliff face, the group needed no encouragement to trek after them to see what they were in such a hurry to get to. It was a beautiful sight as the forest path gave way to an open jungle-esque meadow that could have been a scene right from the jungle book. A beautiful lush green field surrounded by living walls of hanging ferns, vines and vibrant flowers. The elephants wasted no time. Using our perfect vantage point over this utopian elephant stage to sit and relax, observing our giant friends, content that thanks to our project, they were happy in their true home. The Community of Huay Pakoot is in the final stages of registering their elephant rescue committee with the local government, and shortly after this is complete, more elephants will be freed from working camps.
Everyone at GVI is proud to announce that Mana gave birth to a beautiful baby boy around 3pm Saturday, January 28th. After months of waiting for the baby to arrive we are all very excited to welcome a 6th elephant to our herd.
Since Sunday volunteers have been monitoring Mana and her baby nearly around the clock and recording both quantitative social behaviours and qualitative observations. Everyone has been working very hard and we are all a bit sleep deprived, but it has been worth it. Mana was tired and weak after the birth, and on Sunday she was not eating and was not nursing her baby properly. However, the mahouts told us that the baby had been nursed by Boon Jan, another female in our herd with a 2 year old baby of her own. This is a great example of allomothering and it is great to see the other elephants in the GVI herd accepting and taking care of the new arrival. Thong Dee has also been very attentive to both the baby and Mana. As an experienced mother Thong Dee appears to be offering support to Mana, and the new baby is already socializing with Thong Dee, touching her and trying to suck from her nipples.
The newest member of our herd has not been named yet, and it’s customary in Karen culture to wait some time after birth before naming them.
We would like to share the most recent trustee report from the GVI Charitable Trust. This report covers the six month period from July to December 2011.
We are delighted to share that this has been by far our most successful period, raising in six months nearly as much as we did the whole of the previous year. This increase in funding has brought a corresponding increase in the impact we have been able to create on our programs around the world.
During this period we have invested in sustainable education across Latin America including support for the elderly in Guatemala and income generation schemes to support education in Honduras and Ecuador. In Mexico we have worked with a community to establish a recycling centre and in Kenya our partners in Mombasa will now realise their goal of seeing impoverished students through to completion of the primary education earning recognised qualifications for the first time.
These are just a few highlights of an amazing, productive and rewarding six months. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and played a crucial role in these achievements.
After a considerable amount of time working with Elephants in Huay Pakoot, Chiang Mai, Thailand we can now observe remarkable differences with the elephants which are now living in the wild.
GVI Volunteers work on the project throughout the year helping to create a safe environment for the Elephants and collecting important research. In addition they work with the local people helping them to develop alternative livelihoods.
A recent volunteers shared this story about one of the regular forest walks with the elephants:
‘The elephants were very curious about us and they made their way over to say hi when we first came upon them. Then each elephant went on their way, ripping down bamboo to eat as they went. We even saw Elephant Thong Dee, who is usually a bit antisocial, put her trunk in Boon Jan's mouth. The elephants were also very vocal and we heard a lot of rumbling and trumpeting all morning long. We also heard gibbons calling in the distance. Their call is very distinct and haunting and it was incredible to be hiking in the jungle observing elephants and hear gibbons calling off in the distance. At one point the gibbons were calling and the elephants were rumbling at the same time. It was a truly breathtaking moment and a very memorable hike overall.’
Funds raised through the GVI Charitable Trust will help us to bring more elephants and the owners into this program, creating a sustainable population.
To further support the project a group of GVI staff and volunteer will be participating in the Christmas day Chiang Mai Marathon. They have been working hard to both fundraise and train for the big day, good luck to everyone taking part.
Many thanks to everyone who has supported this project and have a wonderful Christmas break.
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