on one of my elephant walks we saw a group of tourists and elephants on the other side of the river. the tourists were walking with the elephants not riding them and the guide told us as a few of the other trekking camps have seen Lek's success they have started to change their model from riding to observing.
it appears the Elephant Nature Park is doing well financially, they have attracted the attention of high profile animal activist like Bob Barker, the day and overnight tours generate a considerable sum [i'm guessing 5K+ a day] but there are over 100 employees and 60+ volunteers to feed and shelter. 40 elephants and hundreds of dogs to feed. an elephant eats about 300 pounds of food a day and all those trucks delivering pumpkins, watermelon and bananas are doing it for free. i am sure Lek has and will continue to have a few sleepless nights thinking about the ongoing financial requirements of a sanctuary this size.
then there is the government, in 2010 i talked with her about government support and she laughed at me. she said then the government was opposed to her mission and vision. although there appears to be some dialogue that has started with the government about elephant conservation in the national parks there is still a long way to go. the government is seen by many as unstable after the coup earlier this year and it's impacted the tourism that brings in money for the park.
when i think back to the conversations we had in 2010 and the progress that has been made in just four years i'm again in awe of what Lek has been accomplished and confident that she will continue to be a voice for the elephants of asia.
as we leave the park for the ride back to Chiang Mai we pass a group of elephants on the road. they have the wooden seats strapped to their back with tourists in them. the mahouts are riding just behind the ears on the neck of the elephant and have the hooks on sticks to manipulate the elephants for the ride. after a week playing with the elephants at the park it's a startling reminder that there are so many elephants that don't have the freedom offered the elephants at the sanctuary and there is much to be done around elephant conservation and management in Thailand. all the proceeds earned from ad clicks this month on this site will be donated to the Elephant Nature Park to support their work.