An elephant’s day

So far, the highlight of our trip in Southeast Asia were the three days we spent with the elephants. A few hours drive from the Lao town of Luang Prabang you find the Elephant Conservation Center Sayaboury. This is not one more of those places where you can see elephants at work, logging or carrying tourists. The conservation center has a very different approach. The center takes care of working elephants that are not fit anymore for logging work or reproducing. Very many working elephants are never allowed to have a baby elephant, thus would mean too much lost time for the owner. An elephant is pregnant 22 months and the baby is depending on the mother for another 5 years. So, the center has introduced a baby bonus program. Mahouts (those who work with the elephant) and/or owners are invited to come to the center with the pregnant elephant and stay there. They are being paid for the time at the center. And after being around them for three days, we can say that they very much seem to enjoy life without logging duties.

Laos is historically the land of the 1000000 elephants. Today one estimates that there are something like 400 wild elephants left. Their habitat is getting smaller and smaller mainly because of the illegal deforestation. The number of the working elephants is also estimated in the area of 400. So, the center’s first concern is to help reproducing. We were able to see the two mothers with their babies taking a bath from close, although in safe distance at the other side of a pond.

The center is depending on sponsors. And a little bit of income is created by the tourists that come for 2 or 3 days. We also met people that came as visitors and stayed longer or came back as volunteers. There are a dozen or so bungalows for the visitors. With great view over a big lake and a stunning sunset. We learned a lot about elephants, their behavior and – very important – how we have to behave being close to them. Annabelle, who is in charge of the welfare of these giants calls them drama queens. A loud boat engine or a quick movement of a person in front of them can make start a trumpet concert. But, respecting the rules, we were able to touch and feed our new big friends. What a big difference touching a young or the old elephant: the young one’s skin is so much softer.

The Daughter has always loved cats, but she is now considering to change her preferences. She might end up needing a bigger flat though!

The elephants are usually together with their mahouts, they have never lived on their own. But with a socialization program the are getting used to being together as a herd like wild elephants. To see them in a quite big fenced in area, being allowed to stroll around alone or as a group, push down a tree to get to the best branches was for us the best part of the visit. It felt like watching wild elephants.

We had no internet at the camp, but the shower system was very efficient.

We can highly recommend this conservation project. And if Laos is not on your travel program, you can sponsor an elephant. Mae Boun Nam or Mae Khoun or one of the other 5 elephants owned by the center are worth a little donation. And we must not forget the kiddos. One of the youngest baby elephant risks to end up in a Chinese circus. If the center can get enough money they would like to buy both him and his mother to prevent that from happening.

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