Monday, 6 February 2012

Adopt an Elephant!

This year for Christmas I gave my brother and his family a rather special gift – an elephant. That’s a large and extravagant present, I hear you say. After all, where do you keep an elephant, and doesn’t it cost a fortune to feed? Not exactly a kitten, is it?!

Which is actually the point – elephants are expensive animals to maintain. They eat a lot, around 200 kilos of food a day; they need space to roam if they are to remain happy and well adjusted; and vet bills alone can cost up to $1000 a month.

Most elephant owners, however, are not millionaires – they are normal Thai families, struggling to make a living and keep their families and animals off the streets. Many of Thailand’s mahouts are ethnic Kui people from Surin province, who have traditionally held the role of elephant carers since the Ayutthaya kingdom. Their battle to maintain this heritage and their unique livelihood inevitably comes down to employment and money – an issue which has become even more pertinent since the cessation of the logging industry in the 1980s.

These days, tourism is the major employer of elephants and their mahouts, with many mahouts giving up the relatively lucrative option of begging on city streets to relocate their elephants to more natural and healthy havens such as the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) camp in Chiang Saen, northern Thailand. But even with the backing of a high-profile hospitality player and charity events such as the annual elephant polo tournament to help raise funds, GTAEF struggle with the daily expenses of maintaining the 35 elephants they support, not to mention their human mahout families that come as part of a package deal.

Recognising this ongoing struggle for survival, world renowned elephant photographer Carol Stevenson has recently launched Adopt an Elephant, giving pachyderm lovers around the world the opportunity to do their bit for Thailand’s domestic elephant population. The first lucky elephant to be sponsored from the GTAEF is Pumpui, a gentle rescued street elephant with a pink spotted trunk who most recently was working with autistic children at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang. Since the campaign was launched in November 2010, 70 percent of Pumpui’s monthly food and vet bill of $1000 has been met by over 200 sponsors, with the aim to have her fully stocked up with bananas and sugar cane before shifting the focus to two other elephants, Charlie and Ploy.

                                                     (Pic: Carol Stevenson)

Sponsors are invited to donate as much as they like, or as little as $5 a month, with one off sponsorships of $35 also available (and making great Christmas or birthday gifts!) In return, you’ll receive a printable portrait of Pumpui taken by Carol Stevenson, receive regular updates, and have your name added to the website. Best of all, however, is the satisfaction that your money is securing Pumpui’s future at the GTAEF, helping her to lead a more idyllic life befitting to such a gorgeous creature.

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