Thai Elephant Training Camp
THAILAND’S elephants, for a long time the logging
industry’s beasts of burden, have been compelled by circumstances to make a major change
of career. With the total ban on logging in that country since the late 1980s, elephants
have to get into a different line of work to earn their keep.
Some of them have resorted to begging. During a visit to
Chiangmai City in September 1997, I saw one huge tusker, and its keepers, in the
popular night bazaar area. The basket on its back was full of half-ripe
bananas that its keepers sell to people in the street to feed the poor animal.
Many elephants are now gainfully employed in Thailand’s
tourism industry, the country’s major foreign exchange earner. At elephant training centres,
these intelligent mammals are still being trained the traditional way to haul logs, etc,
but they now entertain tourists on the side. Yes, elephants have joined the hospitality
business. Sometimes, they do get jobs for which they are trained when there are work contracts
in neighbouring countries, for example Myanmar (Burma) which still supplies teak and other
timber for Thailand's wood carving industry.
I believe there are at least a dozen of these elephant training
centres in Thailand. The one that I visited last year is situated in Chiang Dao District,
about 56km (35 miles) north of Chiangmai. It is located on the banks of the Mae Ping River,
a major tributary of the Chao Phraya, and surrounded by lush tropical greenery.
Below is my photo-essay of a day’s routine at the Chiang Dao
elephant training centre.