Lead by example and others will follow…
For many years Elephant Nature Park (ENP) has had the attention of international and national press, with countless documentaries filmed and shown all over the world. At this point, the ENP has no low season. It has become such a popular destination that many people plan their trips abroad around their visit to the Park, based on when there is space available. As a result of our popularity we have branched out and now, under the SEF umbrella we have the Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia, Journey to Freedom, Surin Project, Elephant Care Program and SEF Myanmar.
This shows that not only is the ENP concept good for elephants, it is a successful, ethical business model.
At this time, more and more traditional trekking camp owners are beginning to take notice. The low season hits them a lot harder. In the rainy season, it is difficult for them to make ends meet.
The time is ripe for change….
Finally, it seems that more elephants in Thailand might get the respect and relative freedom that they deserve. The tourism tide is slowly turning towards more eco-conscious and cruelty-free choices. To fulfill these desires, a few forward thinking elephant camps are changing their format to attract the new breed of customer. Following in the footsteps of our founder Lek Chailert – who has paved the way – they are adapting to the ENP model – abandoning hooks and trekking seats in favour of allowing the elephants to roam free, roll in the mud and socialize.
The Save Elephant Foundation (SEF) responsible tourism concept is a WIN – WIN situation for everyone. People will pay much more money to walk with elephants or just to observe elephants behaving naturally. There is less risk involved if people are not riding the them and the elephants are not forced to do things they would not do naturally. The camp owner can make more money from less people and feel good at the end of the day about what they are doing. The elephants enjoy a higher quality of life free from abuse and lastly, the tourist has a more genuine and rewarding experience that does not involve exploiting the animals.
Here at ENP we have been waiting patiently and hopefully for years for this transition to begin … At last, the waiting is over!
The most recent development is a very exciting one, with one of the biggest elephant camps in Thailand, Sai Yoke Elephant Camp in Kanchanaburi deciding to convert. The new name will be Elephant Haven. From now on the hooks, riding and elephants shows will be a thing of the past. The only ‘show’ will be the elephant’s natural behaviour – mud and dust bathing, scratching on trees, socializing and walking through the jungle.
The Sai Yoke Camp is ‘home’ to 38 elephants! Imagine … what will be going through the minds of these elephants when their days are free from the exploitation that was their world for as long as they can remember? The transformation from old style to new will be complete by the first of September. On that historical first day, those former working elephants will at long last be earning their keep simply by being themselves – which is all we should ever be asking of them.
Earlier this year, elephant owners in Surin Province contacted Lek saying they were ready to bring 5 of their elephants off the streets. They were looking for an alternative way to earn an income with the elephants without subjecting them to the unnatural life of street begging. From this decision a homestay/walking with elephants program was born. The desire to do the right thing is there. Let’s hope that they get enough visitors so that they can continue to do so.
Pamper a Pachyderm, the collaboration project between SEF and former trekking camp owner Muoy Khamwichai, is a well established and resounding success, so much so that when another small camp owner approached Lek back in December looking to do something like PAP, Lek agreed and the Sunshine with Pachyderm program was created!
‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ …
It is apparent that the ‘walking with elephants’ concept is catching on. After taking notice of the success of PAP, a camp nearby to ENP developed their own walking with elephants program. This was heartening to see – except that they choose to use very young elephants who have been taken from their mothers prematurely. For this reason we cannot promote them – but – shedding the trekking seats is a step in the right direction.
AND…. more and more camps seem to be taking an interest in making the transition from riding to walking!
Many international tour operators like www.intrepidtravel.com www.responsibletravel.com are setting higher standards as well and will no longer book tours to camps who use hooks, ride elephants, have elephant shows or elephant painting.
So it seems that slowly but surely, things are getting better for captive elephants in Thailand. This transition will take time. It starts with the disappearance of the hooks and trekking seats, but hopefully not long after elephant tourism will then metamorphose into elephant watching excursions, with education and respect being the priority.
With your help, that day will indeed come.
If YOU want to make a difference to the lives of elephants in Thailand, PLEASE come to support the new SEF Elephant Haven Project in Kanchanaburi, The new Elephant Care walking with elephants program near ENP and our other SEF projects.