I have just returned from a follow up visit to find out how our three sponsored elephants are settling into their new life living out in the forest.
I am finding it hard to express how proud and happy I am feeling after watching them for many hours in the substantial forest that is their home.
As many of you know we spent part of our summer embarking on a huge challenge to walk two beautiful elephants back to their home in the forest surrounding the village where their owners, mahouts and families live. We have been working on this project for over a year now gently building up a relationship with the community that we believe will continue to grow in strength into the future. Our partners in Thailand have many years of experience in community based tourism and it is through this model we nurture the project. This model encompasses and cares for the needs of the whole village, their strength is the community itself and ensuring that everyone benefits. The elephants are at the heart of life here and been part of the community for hundreds of years, they have successfully established a certified home stay project and also run a community elephant project.
I arrived to a warm welcome in the village, we settled to dinner and chatted for many hours about our shared vision and the situation for elephants living in tourist camps. The village is situated in the most beautiful location with high hills and forests all around. We had an early start in the morning so wished each other a good nights sleep.
We headed out very early, as I was keen to see if we could offer our guests a day with the elephants in the forest returning back to the village before dark. The best experience is camping out in the forest but I am aware that not everyone would enjoy this experience!
We were joined by one of the mahouts who had been back in the village with his family for a few days. The mahouts are still sleeping out in the forest most nights as the elephants adjust to being together and learn the geography of the forest they are living in. they allow the three elephants the freedom to wander and forage. They are near a beautiful flowing river, which has many inlets creating muddy wallows. We all watched the three elephants with huge smiles on our faces commenting on how healthy they are looking. Their skin is good, eyes bright and alert but carrying a relaxed and contented demeanor. This has to be the BEST life that can be offered to captive elephants, I cannot imagine a better place for them to be.
When they wandered away it was always their choice and we simply tried to follow them through the mass of foliage and huge fallen bamboo. It was soon time for lunch and as always I was treated to lunch cooked over a fire in bamboo, my companions quickly got to work creating cooking pots, dishes and cups from the bamboo around us. Life is beautifully simple here and it is breath taking to experience. We set off in the afternoon to find the elephants; they were happily smashing down bamboo and enjoying a very natural existence totally un phased by our presence, I am sure wondering why we find it so hard to keep up with them as we scramble through the undergrowth!
As I said my goodbye’s I watched again as three beautiful bottoms disappeared in to the dense forest. I always feel sad to leave them but my heart was bursting with pride at what we had achieved through working together. I have so much admiration for the head of the elephant project, we have had many discussions with Sinchai about the vision for the future, the conversations will continue but as he turned to smile as we were leaving I knew that we are on the same path.
The project is not one where elephants are waiting on concrete to greet tourists; this will involve a hard walk out to find them in THEIR forest but we firmly believe this has to be the future for any tourists wanting to see Asian elephants living naturally in their habitat.
Our project has far reaching aims in terms of more elephants living in the forest and conservation plans to protect huge areas of forest in the area. So much goes on behind the scenes with constant discussions and meetings and we face all the challenges before us with great optimism for the future.
Step by step and through working TOGETHER we are and will continue to achieve great things.