Retired elephants have new home
CHIANG MAI, Thailand (17 June 2013) – Five lucky elephants will have a new home come 4 July 2013. Save Elephant Foundation (SEF) today announced plans to open a new sanctuary, Erawan Elephant Retirement Park in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The new sanctuary will open its doors to elephants in need of retirement from the tourism industry.
The first five elephants, all of whom have worked their entire lives, are set to take off their benches, unlock their chains and live the rest of their lives without work, thanks to SEF and its founder, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert.
Chailert initially visited the area – home to the biggest elephant tourism camp in the region, Sai Yok, and the largest concentration of such camps in the country, as well the infamous River Kwai and the “Death Railway” – in April 2012 to meet with elephant owners and educate them about alternative ways to care and earn money from the animals.
Within the past year, she has returned to meet with many elephant camps and teach them about positive reinforcement. Using her flagship project Elephant Nature Park (ENP) as a model, the renowned elephant conservationist showed the camp owners and staff how they can positively change the lives of the elephants. She even brought many of them to northern Thailand to visit ENP so they could see the model in person and how the elephants thrive at the popular ecotourism attraction.
“The owners I brought to the park could not believe their eyes when they saw our elephants roaming,” says Chailert. “They always thought if the elephants were unchained they would run away. Now, they see that is not what happens. Their opinions changed when they saw our herds stay together and saw that other camps in Chiang Mai are adopting our positive reinforcement methods and chain-free roaming during the day.”
Soon after, she was able to sway the camp owners and families, and finally, the mahouts, that the elephants she wanted to bring to the retirement home would be better off.
“It is not an easy job to convince the mahouts the option we can provide is better,” she says. “They may fight against it because they can still make money from their elephant. I had to educate all of them until it was a success.”
The five elephants heading to the park are former tourism elephants. Spread over 50 acres, the new facility will operate similarly to ENP and open its doors to volunteers to help maintain the retirement property and assist the mahouts with the elephants.
“We want to make a difference and would like to care for 100 elephants, but first we have to show that our model can be successful here,” says Chailert. “Because these elephants have health or mental issues from working in trekking camps, it is not an easy job. It will take work for them to acclimatize to their new lives and with a small number it is easier to show how their lives improve initially. Then, we will continue to educate camps and mahouts and show how happy their elephants can be and that they can still earn a living.”
Eventually, Chailert envisions a similar property to ENP, expanding the land and making it a self-sustainable park.