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.