capacity 012As forests diminish across Laos, the country is actively working to reform their timber industry and attempt to curb extensive deforestation. This is, of course, great news for environment, however leaves the working elephants of Laos and the families they support in a precarious situation.

In Laos around 9,000 people are reliant on the income generated by working elephants. Financially instability for such families could easily lead to communities being pushed back into poverty and as a consequence there is a risk that their elephants would be neglected or abandoned.

Ahead of the completion of logging quotas, ElefantAsia has been actively working to promote the reconversion of working elephant into more sustainable forms of employment such as ecotourism, which in turn provide less arduous working conditions for the elephants and are more ecologically sound.

To empower mahout communities to manage the transition from logging activities to more socio-economic alternatives, ElefantAsia has worked on the following projects:

Mahout Associations – development of civil society allowing mahout communities open forum to discuss elephant issues and future income alternatives.

Mahout Vocational Training Center – located at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, the training center is a place where mahouts can learn English and social skills in readiness for working with "farangs" foreign visitors in the tourist sector.

Elephant Conservation Center – ElefantAsia has partnered with the ECC, which is a sanctuary for retired and rescued logging elephants. Set in 106 hectares of forest, visitors can come and follow the way of the mahout and in turn support elephant conservation in Laos.

Elephant Breeding Programme – Pregnant cows can come to the ECC nursery to give birth and wean their calves. The project supports the mahout's salary, whilst our onsite veterinary team cares for mother and baby. The mahout and elephants are introduced to the benefits of soft tourism.

Elephant Adventures – Ethical elephant trekking available to tourists through the Mahout Association in Hongsa and Green Discovery Laos.

Neighbouring Myanmar has the largest captive population of elephants worldwide, with some 5,000 elephants working across the country. Of these around 2,700 are owned by Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), and of the remaining privately owned elephants, a good many are rented by MTE. With MTE soon reducing its logging operations by 40%, a question mark now lies over the future of Myanmar working elephants. We have heard first hand that elephants are being illegally sold across the border to Thailand and we are concerned for the future of the significant population. As such ElefantAsia is making tentative, yet positive steps to work in Myanmar to assist ease the situation presented to the working elephants.