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Life as a Working Elephant in the GTAEF

June 26, 2016

Doug Bahr put together another blog covering his volunteer period with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF). In this one, he describes the life of a working elephant in the Golden Triangle of Thailand where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar come together.
The GTAEF is a Thai registered not-for-profit institution established in 2005 in co-operation with the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and Spa. The primary focus has been to help captive elephants maintain an income for themselves, their mahouts and their families. They are invited to become a part of this program to provide the elephants with food and veterinary care, housing for their owners and family, and a job. The overriding objective is to offer an optimum lifestyle such that they are removed from demeaning or dangerous work such as street begging, illegal logging or elephant shows. Moreover, It is about as close as you can get to a natural habitat in the "wild." 

A typical day for elephants begins every morning at 7:00 am when the elephants leave the evening surroundings to walk the two to three kilometer stroll for breakfast at the main camp.

There they have a hearty breakfast of foods such as pineapple fronds, sugar cane and nutritious native grasses. Around midday, they take a hike back down to the grasslands for a bath before returning to camp for a midday snack.
At 3 pm they return to the river and then back to the grasslands to spend the night in solitude.

The mahouts are responsible for leading their elephants to and from their resting areas, bathing them, ensuring they are properly fed, and alerting the veterinarian to any health issues that may occur. Each mahout has a special bond with their elephant and is very much in tune with their behavioral cues and sensitive to changes that may indicate a compromise in their health.

If Anantara guests are present, the elephants may carry out the same routine with a guest riding on the back of its neck. What represents roughly a sixty-kilogram load in the weight of a typical adult is less than one-tenth of the hauling capacity of an elephant. The guests sit directly on the elephant's neck as a mahout would do to direct the elephant while either a mahout or a GTAEF volunteer such as Doug walks alongside.
The guests are able to build a bond with their elephant, learn basic verbal and foot commands, and develop empathy for one of the most empathetic creatures on the planet. As natural habitats capable of supporting elephants in the wild disappear, this program offers a sustainable and dignified alternative providing elephants with jobs to support their owners and family.

Doug Bahr returned home to complete his veterinarian studies and now practices in Vail, Colorado. His final observation from his diary tells it all: "The GTAEF does an excellent job maintaining a healthy balance of work and down time for the elephants and I feel proud to be a volunteer here." Hats off to John Roberts, the creator and director of the GTAEF which The Elephant Story supports.

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