My first encounter with Asian elephants in Thailand last year was shadowed by an underlying fear of large animals. Possibly connected to my childhood trauma of being thrown off the back of a pony. So I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing when I agreed to visit the Elephant Conservation Centre in Xayaboury province with a friend last month… Turns out this visit completely transformed my attitude towards large animals and by the third day when we had to leave, I would rather have stayed and ventured back into the forest with the mahouts.
I learned to ride an elephant on its neck, passed my mahout training course with flying colors (i.e. managed to instruct an elephant to walk a figure eight whilst riding it) and admired little baby elephants in the centre’s nursery. In addition to visiting the centre and making a donation for the elephants, encouraging other people to visit the centre is probably one of the best ways to keep supporting their vitally important work in safeguarding the future of the Asian elephant in Laos and the region.
One time when I was was riding one of the elephants towards the centre from the forest, I found myself gasping for air as the view opened before my eyes. I want to remember this forever! I told my friend who was a few steps ahead of me on her own elephant. Through my pictures and the sound of a wooden elephant bell made by one of the oldest mahouts in Laos, I think I will. Go if you can and you will too.