Taking the bananas to the elephants
Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Thailand:
Hiking over hills and deep into the forest, we came across 3 adults and 1 baby elephant. I was able to spend a day with Global Vision International staff and volunteers getting to know the elephant herd they have sponsored and supported back into the elephants’ native habitat. This also includes the mahouts’ (elephant caretakers) return to their local villages.
My trip started with a project orientation including everything from safety, to risk, and even about the culture of Thailand and the local Karen group. The next morning we were off to the village of Huay Pakoot outside of Mae Chaem led by staff member and elephant-specialist, Kylie. On the way we stopped to pick up loads of bananas as treats for the elephants. These bananas serve as a way for new volunteers to get to know their specific elephant that they will be observing and documenting during their time in the village.
The elephants we got to know were Mana, Tong Dee, Boon Jon, and Song Kran along with their mahouts (the other member of the herd, Bpee Mai, was off to receive mahout command training which is a part of local tradition and culture). One of the mahouts had been caring for his elephant for 50 years. Getting to know the staff, I learned that one was an elephant specialist, helping collect the data on the elephant behaviors. Another staff and volunteer were in veterinary school, and the rest of the volunteers were passionate about animals and conservation. Staff are not only gathering data about elephant behavior from volunteers, they also are studying the various types of plants the elephants eat, what traditional plant medicines the elephants take in the forest, and how they relate to each other. This team hopes to provide new data and research on these Asian elephants never gathered before.
While there, the local community was so supportive providing homestays and a traditional “Dee Joo” welcoming ceremony. The community and mahouts drive the projects activities. Because of this project, not only were the health and well-being of the elephants supported, they were able to stop working in stressful and harmful tourism and street begging activities, return back to their forests, and the mahouts were able to return to their homes and still make an income for the family. GVI is creating an eco-tourism model to be replicated that shows villages and elephants do not have to be involved in harmful, invasive tourism, but can be integrative, collaborative, and mutually beneficial.
GVI is hoping to expand the number of elephants reintegrated back to the local habitat.
a mahout and his elephants
Feeding Mana her bananas