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Published: December 28th 2009
Interviewing Marcus Peschke, the Founder and President of the Elephant Village
Interview took place at the Elephant Village above the restaurant. Very nice setting with a great view of their elephant camp.
December 28th. Some history: For those who know me, I love elephants. When I was leaving for this trip to Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam many had asked me if I would be doing anything with elephants or researching any agencies working with elephants. I had no plans to do so. For past information on some of my visit/reviews, check out some of my blog entries including the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, and PAWS in California, as well as the work being done by Help In Suffering in Jaipur, India. I have quite a bit of personal experience with visiting a variety of elephant camps and those offering elephant rides, as well as a lovesick heart for the plight of the elephants, especially for those used in tourism and circuses (see some of my other blog entries for information regarding use of elephants as performing animals). However, through my visit of the Elephant Village, as well as remembering my impressions from another Elephant Park I visited in Bali (see my blog entry on Bali for more information), I was left with a more rounded and balanced perspective about elephant riding and use of elephants for entertaining tourists, especially in areas were
their survival is at risk. So the following are my impressions of the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang, Laos. I hope you will also visit it. Visiting the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang
I first saw the sign for the "Elephant Village" in the airport in Luang Prabang. Based on my past experience with visiting elephant camps, I felt it prudent to do some research to determine if this was a place worth supporting, or was this merely going to add to the exploitation of elephants. Their website was impressive and well done. I especially felt put at ease to read the Elephant Village works in co-operation with the Elephant Nature Park and the Elephant Institute in Thailand. Their website recommends going to their main office, rather than to other tour operators. There are a lot of tour operators throughout Luang Prabang advertising elephant camps and even the Elephant Village, so you have to be discerning on finding the place. It is just past Ecotours and a jewelry shop on the right side of the main street going West. It has a fake elephant in their office, as well as the same information that is found on their
Going out to the Elephant Village in a Tuk Tuk
It is dusty and bumpy but do-able. Just show up and see what is meant to be. :--)
There is no admission to just look, but donations are appreciated.
While visiting their office in Luang Prabang, I asked some questions important to me regarding the use of the bullhook, as well as how their elephant were treated (see some of my other blog entries regarding training methods of elephants). Although I was not happy to hear they are using the bullhook, I felt that despite that we should go out for a visit. We decided to not sign up for the Mahout Training, which is very popular per viewing Trip Advisor (listed as the #1 tourist destination out of 24 in this area), nor did I want to ride the elephants with the use of a carriage. They have some opportunities to ride on the elephant's neck, but without doing the Mahout Training, this would still mean the carriage would be on the elephant. From my research on use of carriages for elephant riding, I know that elephants are not made to have a lot of weight on their backs. So, we found out that we could just arrange for a Tuk Tuk or Taxi to get to the park, then do our own tour. This is what we did.
Getting to the Elephant Village: The
road was dusty getting out there in a Tuk Tuk, but it was absolutely a beautiful drive following the Nam Kahn River. We arrived at the park around 1030. Tourists that were doing the Mahout Training were enjoying their time with the elephants, and some were going off on elephant rides. Currently, the park has a total of nine elephants. I asked for a guided tour or to talk to someone about the Elephant Village to learn more about what they were doing. In particular, I was interested to find out if they were planning on creating a sanctuary, and what was their philosophy going into the future. To my delight, I was kindly given an interview with Markus Peschke, the Founder and President. Much information is on their website (http://www.elephantvillage-laos.com), so I advise you to go check it out, but here is a summary of what they are currently doing and hoping to do in the future. My interview, and what I found out:
First, they are offering Elephant Rides. As an opponent of elephant riding, I found myself swayed through the logic of the necessity of having this service. Unlike the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand that
now has much outside support, Markus is slowly bringing to light new ways for elephants to be used, and needs to work gently to gain access to Government support for more land. He needs to make enough money from the elephants to feed them and support his projects, as well as show he is a viable business. He currently has four Hectares to work with, plus access to land for elephants to graze in the jungle. To attract tourists is the only way to earn enough money to feed and care for the elephants they have, and to grow their organization into something more visionary. They are working with the Laos Government to get some 300 Hectares that could then be used as a sanctuary, and beautiful tour destination to view elephants interacting in a more natural environment. There are plans for a "Hospice" to be set up for injured and aging elephants, where tourists can come and have the experience of learning, as well as caring for these elephants in a more nurturing environment. The Mahout experience is very popular, as mentioned, and will continue. There are overnight stays, and the pictures of the lodging vary from deluxe, modern
tents, and more of a rustic setting.
All of their elephants have been rescued from the logging industry, so they are already trained. Some come with emotional problems as living and working as a logging elephant is a very tough existence. Sometimes elephants are given speed so they can work long hours without the need for rest. Some (including a few at the park) have sustained eye injuries (one is partially blind, the other fully blind) caused by the logging chain rubbing against their eye lids or catching a stick in the eye while pulling logs. There is an elephant they hope to rescue who still is having to work despite stepping on an unexploded grenade. Currently, it is believed there are some 560 logging elephants that potentially face a bleak future, as Laos is logging at a fantastic rate. These logging elephants will need places to go, and work to sustain them, as they eat a lot and are expensive to care for. They cannot be turned loose in the jungle, because of development and the risk of human:elephant conflicts. These elephants are now domesticated, which means that they would likely be at risk of going into gardens,
etc. These elephants would likely be shot at, and soon would be considered a nuisance, rather than the beautiful creatures they are.
So the options are limited. The Elephant Village at least has good vision, and are starting where they can. They are working with neighboring villages and forming a community partnership. This means that many villagers are able to get work, and at the same time learn and participate in other means of sustaining themselves. Instead of slash and burning the forest, they can learn how to care for elephants, and still be able to sustain themselves. So what about the treatment of the elephants related to elephant riding and the hook?
At the Elephant Village, they keep the working hours limited to about three a day, so the elephants have time to rest and just be elephants. In comparison their life as a logging elephant was must harsher, and compared to other Elephant Camps, these elephants are not expected to do all the tricks and performing, which is stressful and often requires extensive training thus discipline (aka use of the hook). I think the Elephant Village has a good future ahead of them. How can
you help? Visit them. They are not set up to receive charitable donations, however do accept private donations that go for the care of the elephants and their projects for the Sanctuary and Hospice Program for Elephants. They do not charge admission if you decide to take a day trip out there to visit, then you can place a donation in the donation box. They are currently in need of qualified volunteers, and a visiting Veterinarian that can assist with training the mahouts on medical care of elephants.
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