Thailand has a long and proud history of working with elephants, but their numbers are in rapid decline. In Thailand alone, there are only about 3,000-4,000 elephants left in the wild.
Since the logging ban in 1989, elephants have primarily been used in the tourism industry. This provides little opportunity for them to forage for themselves or socialize with other elephants. This can be detrimental to their health and reduces life spans and hinders reproduction.
Opportunities for the elephants to spend time in their habitat is vital. Our partnership with the village of Huay Pakoot aims to improve the lives of elephants in the area.
Most village families in Huay Pakoot own at least one elephant and rely on the elephants for their income. Our project seeks to empower the villagers with alternative livelihoods. This will help improve conditions for both elephants and their carers (mahouts).
The main goals of this partnership are
- supporting a stable herd of elephants living in the forested area of the village
- creating a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village
- monitoring the social and physical well-being of the elephants in their semi-wild environment
- supporting the community to be empowered to develop avenues for alternative livelihoods
Our work in this project in 2019 included
- 57 community students received a bi-weekly English education
- 2 local women trained in leadership skills
- 7 community members trained in data collection techniques
- 22 surveys collected per month on elephants and biodiversity
- 738.2kg (1,627lbs) of litter collected in a three-day project. This improved the living areas of this effort was recognised by and raised the profile of the importance of caring for the environment
Challenges during the pandemic
When tourism camps closed due to the pandemic the mahouts walked their elephants back to the village so they could be at home in the forest and could be looked after. Huay Pakoot went from having a population of just 12 elephants to over 50.
There was not enough natural food in the forest to feed all these elephants; and space was limited too. The villagers helped each other by each driving three hours a day to buy elephant grass from the nearest town. Villagers were also ferrying water back and forth for the elephants.
This shows the dedication of the villagers to their elephants. Without their usual income, they were still spending all their money, time, and resources caring for them and ensuring they were well-fed and comfortable.
Tourism continues to be restricted due to the pandemic. The villagers in Huay Pakoot are meeting with authorities to find longer-term solutions for their elephants. This includes growing more elephant grass in the village and promoting domestic tourism.
Our next steps
We will continue to help upskill the members of the village. We aim to support the development of income-generating activities, this will allow for the ongoing care of the elephants as well as the families in the village. However, this process will take time.
How you can help
The goal of working with our partners in the Huay Pakoot village is for them to be empowered to generate their own income. This is an ongoing process. Our funds can support training, and resources to ensure the village of Huay Pakoot has the capacity to effectively care for the elephants.