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The Asian Elephant Compassionate Conservation field course explores how the science of animal behavior and well-being can be used in conservation to improve outcomes for animals, people, and the environment. Compassionate Conservation is a cross-disciplinary scientific field that recognizes that the health and wellbeing of all living things – including humans – are connected. This program addresses the socio-cultural context of conservation, and how empirical work in conservation is grounded in value-based assumptions about wild animals, nature, and its resources.
While students are based in the field, they will have the opportunity to explore the complexities and challenges of real world, community-based conservation from a local community coexisting with elephants, the expert MEF staff and conservation behaviorist Dr. Liv Baker
Students will join villagers in activities such as, rice planting, foraging for native vegetables, animal tracking, fabric weaving, in forest crafts, as well as in traditional meal preparation. Students will also gain language skills in Sgaw Karen and Thai through formal lessons by our bi and tri-lingual field staff, and by conversing with community members.
In the field students will participate in an on-going research program that is studying the behavior, social dynamics, bioacoustics, and foraging ecology of a family re-wilded Asian elephants. Students will hike each day into pristine bamboo and tropical evergreen forest to observe these elephants, assess the forest habitat, and survey other wildlife. Students will be accompanied by trained staff and elephant guardians at all times when in elephant habitat.
Life in the Field:
Students will be accommodated in homestays by the local village. The field site is in a remote (but not isolated) Karen hill tribe village in northern Thailand. The villagers speak Karen and Thai. The accommodations are basic, but clean and comfortable. Toilets are mostly western, but some are Asian squat style. The showers are a traditional bucket bath. There is no running hot water in the village.
Students will have a weekend in the middle of the course to explore Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is renowned for its night markets, beautiful Old City region, and delicious, traditional Thai cuisine. It is an extremely safe and easy to navigate city. Transportation to and from Chiang Mai is included in the course fee, but student’s choice of activities and accommodation in Chiang Mai during their break is their responsibility.
Why Choose a Field Course?
There are hundreds of valuable summer experiences for students, but engaging in field research with real-world application provides invaluable experience for students helping them to bridge the gap between theory and practice. We keep numbers small enabling personalized learning, tailored to each student’s individual research interests. For anyone interested in a future career in the fields of biology, ecology, conservation, animal behavior or animal welfare, fieldwork is a necessary part of learning and professional development. Field research is something that all graduate programs look for in candidates.
Moving the Field Forward with Valuable Research
Asian elephants have been at the centre of many large campaigns surrounding their lives in captive environments. However little is known about many aspects of their lives when living as semi wild in a large protected forest.
We are delighted to have formed a partnership with The Centre For Compasionate Conservation, this will enable us to invite students to watch and study our elepahnts lives in the forest, how far they travel, what they eat, the relationship with their mahouts and many other key questions.
We are working with the inspirational Dr Liv Baker:
"The Centre collaborates with animal welfare and conservation organisations to work towards improving the welfare and protection of wild animals. Thus, CfCC is delighted to begin a research collaboration with Mahouts Elephant Foundation. As it currently stands, there is a paucity of scientific research on Asian elephants.
A documented body of scientific literature will be crucial to inform future Asian elephant conservation and protection. The CfCC/MEF collaboration is exceptionally positioned to facilitate research regarding Asian elephants, and the mahout-elephant culture. We know that this research has the potential to improve the knowledge we use to improve the lives of elephants and the people that work with them.
This collaboration will create a competing model for ecotourism that supports an autonomous life for elephants, habitat conservation, and provides a dedicated income source for local mahouts and their families without compromising the welfare of elephants. To create a model of elephant conservation and ecotourism our long-term study will assess four key areas:
1) The transition of elephants from captivity to the forest.
2 ) The social behaviour and habitat use of transitioned elephants.
3) The relationship between local mahouts and the elephants.
4) Educational shift of ecotourists when presented with alternative" elephant-centric opportunities."
Thank you for supporting us in our work!