Conserving Elephants in Laos

There are still many areas in Asia where elephants truly are used as beasts of burden; where they are used as work animals and spend their lives toiling for humans.

Laos, in South East Asia is one country where elephants are used in the forest industry, primarily to haul logs. Thanks to the burgeoning use of modern machinery, the use of elephants as labourers is on the wane. Whilst this is good for the elephants, it is bad for the forests as more efficient logging and transport methods have increased the amount of rain forest being logged, particularly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

So prevalent was the use of elephants as working animals in Laos that it was known as “the Land of a Million Elephants”, but that is no longer the case as many elephants have been abandoned for being of no further use to the loggers.

Fortunately, they are people and organisations who do care for elephant welfare, and so the Elephant Conservation Centre has been established near the town of Sayaboury in Laos.

The Elephant Conservation Centre is a privately run company working in partnership with French-based non-profit organisation ElefantAsia. Revenue from the Centre’s tourism contributes to conservation activities undertaken by ElefantAsia across Laos.

Because the elephants that are working toil very hard, it is difficult for them to reproduce, so one of the aims of the Elephant Conservation Centre is to aid elephant fertility. They have established an elephant hospital to give the best care to pregnant cows and their offspring, and the hospital also treats those elephants that have been injured or are ill.

There is also an Elephant Museum on the premises which gives visitors the opportunity to about elephants and their mahouts, the people who have traditionally trained and worked with elephants; a practice that has been occurring for thousands of years.

People are welcome to visit the Centre, in fact it does partly rely on tourism activities to aid its fund raising. Visitors are also encouraged to participate in voluntary work at the Centre, and there are several different programs from which to choose.

One of the most popular involves spending a week at the Centre to share the life of a mahout by learning the basics of their craft, and interacting with the elephants in a very hands-on way.

The Elephant Conservation Centre is concerned with the welfare of the elephants, therefore the elephant are not on show, as such, nor do they perform shows, nor pack tourists onto their backs for rides. The elephants are respected, and it is hoped that those who do visit or volunteer will leave the Centre with a greater understanding and respect for these magnificent beasts.

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