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    Mahouting Around

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    In Laos and Thailand elephants are still being used in the logging industry despite animal rights activists. Some projects have popped up to try to save the ailing beasts of burden. One idea is to buy the sick and injured elephants away from the loggers and try to restore their health. To offset the costs of maintaining such large animals the ellies are then trained for their new job in tourism. We wanted to see for ourselves so we spent two days at a mahout camp. The herd was made of 8 adult girls and one baby boy. Physically they looked to be in good health and well fed. These Asian ones are much smaller than their African cousins, almost 3ft shorter. The shape of their heads, back and mouths are distinct as well. We rode on the necks and felt their bristly hair poking up at us. It’s not easy to stay balanced on a moving elephant. You can feel their shoulders alternating with their stride rocking you to and fro. And it feels like you’re sitting on a rotating turret swinging from side to side as the elephant takes in its surroundings. There’s nothing to hold onto except your will to not fall 8 feet to the ground and get trampled under foot. We walked them up the mountain where they spend the nights eating and sleeping. In the morning we met up and they gave us a lift down to the river to give them a bath. The mahouts gave us scrub brushes and though the elephants got cleaner we got dirtier. The adults went back up to camp to get ready for the next tourist rides while the baby was in a tyrate for being left behind. The mahouts found the girls wouldn’t work if the baby was around. The ellies and mahouts work for 14 days then get a day off. The elephants get their 200-400lbs of food a day and have medical supervision so most will live to the natural ripe old age of 65. Whereas ones stuck in logging only survive half that lifespan. Given that freedom is not an option the tourism gig seems a better life than logging.
    Surprisingly there are sparse wild elephants in the mountains but their days of freedom are numbered as people encroach on their territory

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