The reason these elephants end up injured and malnourished is commonly due to being sold to the tourism or logging industries. Tourism is Thailands 2nd biggest industry and so many people want to come to Thailand and do the quintessential “Ride an Elephant” experience. (Full disclosure – I regretfully was one of those unconscious travelers on my first trip to Thailand). So the government doesn’t want to put regulations around the safety of elephants as it could hurt tourism. The logging industry is no easier to regulate as it’s largely a black market business with a lot of gangs involved and international export of elephants to Malaysia and demand of goods in China.
Largely elephant owners care about their elephants but then they rent them out to other businesses to make money and after signing these bad contracts, they can’t get out of them – even when they see their elephants are being abused. They usually make about 20k baht a month (about $575) to rent their elephant or it costs 1.5 million baht to buy one. So Elephant Nature Camp asks the elephant owners to rent their animals to the Camp instead of to these bad businesses so that they can be in a safer place.
The work that Elephant Nature Camp is doing to help these animals live in as natural of a habitat as possible is incredible. In addition to paying the monthly expense to rent these animals from their owners so they can be saved from harm, they also set up an environment that makes these animals so happy and heals their wounds.
It’s not easy for these mahouts to follow these elephants and keep them out of trouble. If the elephants run away from their mahouts, they sometimes end up in villages or more often on local farmers farmland and the farmers aren’t always too happy about it. There are stories of wild elephants escaping from local national parks and them being killed by local farmers who don’t want them messing with their crops.
The mahouts that follow this herd do not use prodding sticks and are not abusive at all towards the elephants. They have a really sweet relationship with their elephants and are always looking out for them. They do have to chain them up at night so the mahouts can sleep but the chains still allow the elephants to walk around and they are always tied near an abundance of trees that the elephants can munch on as needed.
These elephants eat about 20 hours a day and sleep on and off for about 4. Yo says its as close to what their life would be like in the wild aside from the fact that they are well watched after since they were rescued from captivity and may not be able to acclimate back into a national forest with other white elephants at this point.
Yo (our amazing leader who I’ll talk about later) said that simply paying for this volunteer program had the biggest impact. The money that comes in from volunteers helps to support paying the monthly rental fee for the elephants, employing the mahouts, our guides and is given back to the village because we buy food for the week and Elephant Nature Park donates some of the money to the local school for a lunch program.