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 Huay Pakoot, a group of elephant owners and mahouts, have opted to keep their elephants in the forests surrounding their village. Instead of giving rides and performing tricks in a tourist camp, these elephants now spend every day foraging on native plants, nurturing and educating their calves, maintaining strong social bonds and interacting freely with one another.
The people of Huay Pakoot have a strong tradition of elephant keeping, which has been part of their culture for several hundred years. In addition to bringing the elephants out of the camps and back to their natural habitat, this project also enables the mahouts to stay within their community. Instead of being out working in the camps for months at a time, these young men are now able to participate in family and village life while sharing their traditional knowledge and strengthening the community’s links with their elephants.
This month we welcome our newest mahout, Dah Khur, to the team. Alongside Jordoh, Dah Khur will mahout Boon Jahn and her 2 ½ year old calf Song Kran. Song Kran was born in the forests surrounding the village and has never left – the essence of what this project is aiming to achieve! While still dependent on Boon Jahn in many ways, Song Kran is getting bolder and is beginning to venture further afield on his own. This is the ideal time to introduce a mahout as it allows for a strong relationship to develop without disrupting the bond between mother and calf.
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.