From 1957 to 1989, elephants in Thailand were primarily used in the logging industry. They were domesticated and trained by local villagers to work and provide the family with an income. By the end of 1989, the logging industry had grown so rapidly that the forests had been depleted to a point where only 20 percent of the forests remained forcing the government to ban the trade. With the logging industry effectively shut down, many Thai families found themselves without a source of income, a situation made worse by the fact that they were still in possession of a very large animal with a very large appetite. Some owners turned to illegal logging near Burma, while other mahouts train their animals to give rides to tourists or roam the city streets begging for money.
The lucky elephants however end up on reserves like the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand where they join a herd of domesticated animals, roam at will and enjoy leisurely baths down at the river with their mahout.
Unfortunately, despite the government’s ban on logging, the forests of Thailand are still slowly being depleted. There is little natural habit left for elephants and only 5 percent of Thailand’s elephant population remains wild. That is why the work the volunteers are doing at the Elephant Nature Park is so important. In addition to providing a sanctuary for the elephants, food and nutrition, veterinary care, mental stimulation and a family environment, they also provide educational resources for guests and volunteers.
This is not just another “get your chance to ride an elephant” program.
Conservation and raising awareness of the elephants’ situation is a vital part of what the nature park is about. They invite tourists from around the world to come and interact with the elephants first hand. Participants in this edutourism program can choose to volunteer for one or two weeks and be taught by the mahouts on staff about elephants, their habitat, herbal medicines, conservation efforts, and how they can help to save this endangered species.
Edutourism programs, such as the volunteer positions at the elephant park in Chiang Mai, are ideal for people and groups that want to get more out of their travels than a few photographs. The programs are designed to be engaging, educational and informative; providing an experience and unique insight into another culture, another activity and even another social political issue such as the conservation of an endangered species.
If you are interested in participating in an edutourism program with elephants in Thailand, contact International Career Studies for more information.