Visiting Thailand? Want to play with elephants at a place where your dollars can make a real difference? Check out The Chai Lai Orchid. It’s an eco lodge working for Thai elephants’ well-being. Inkredibly visited, was touched by their mission, and wishes to share their story with our readers.
Why Traditional Thai Elephant Activities Aren’t Okay
At most non-sanctuary elephant parks you can ride two to four people in a chair strapped to the elephant’s back. “Dirt and rocks can get stuck under the blankets and chairs, making it very uncomfortable for the elephants,” explains Claire, who has been volunteering at Chai Lai on weekends since April of last year.
Allie, who moved to Thailand several years ago after graduating from college, explained to us that all Thai elephants used to be government property until the current king changed that law, and now elephants are all owned privately, leaving them at the mercy of their owners. The owners generally don’t mean to harm the elephants, but they need to earn a living, and sometimes in doing so they don’t take into consideration what is best for the elephant. It’s not just the elephants who suffer in this situation; each elephant has a caretaker called a mahout. The mahouts stay with the elephants from birth, usually, and every elephant/mahout pair forges a strong bond over the course of their lifetimes. The mahouts bathe, feed, train, play, and exercise the elephants. This means that when you own an elephant, part of the cost is paying for its mahout. “The mahouts work all day every day, for about $5 a day,” says Clare.
Why Chai Lai is Different
“We really want to help change the elephants’ lives,” says Allie. “If we could buy the elephants, their mahouts would come with them, and we would be able to pay them a living wage,” shares Clare. More specifically, they want to buy all the elephants from the adjacent park with plans to retire the older elephants while ensuring that the younger ones never have to experience a chair ride in their lifetime. Rather than having a chair strapped to its back, the elephants would enjoy walking through the jungle with their mahouts and visitors, short, single person bareback rides for younger elephants, and bathing and playing in the river. Clare told us that currently Chai Lai has the elephants starting for half-days, 7 days a week. The owner of the adjacent camp where the elephants are currently owned is giving the Chai Lai Orchid 6 months to prove that people will still pay to have humane interactions with elephants. After that time, if they are successful, he will let them take over the management of the camp on a full-time basis, which would make it possible to run a full-fledged sanctuary.
“We have raised enough funds through our Dollars For DeeDee campaign to start managing the elephant camp from 11am onwards. That means the elephants are free from chair rides and we invite people instead to have ethical interactions with elephants. We started our own tour company and we are so happy with this response! The elephants get to have leisurely walks through the jungle without that heavy load, they get to bathe in the river, which is their second favourite thing to do, next to eating, and they get a lot more time to relax. This is amazing to see! You can visibly see that the elephants are happier, the mahouts are happier, and the guests who come are happier. The experience is so much more special and loving,’’ says Clare.
During Inkredibly’s visit to Chai Lai, we had the opportunity to bathe with DeeDee, one of the younger elephants, and let us tell you how amazing it was. Seeing DeeDee in the river provided an opportunity for her personality to really show. She is such a goofball! We had the awesome experience of brushing her, getting kisses from her, and getting splashed by her. After getting to know her and enjoying time in the river with her, it would be heartbreaking to imagine her growing up and losing that playful heart after years of working tirelessly to carry heavy passengers through the jungle.
What You Can Do to Help
Because the most difficult challenge outside of the diplomatic relations between the elephant owners is fundraising. Alexa and the Chai Lai girls have started a campaign called #DontLetDeeDeeDown, which needs your help. This is a campaign focused on helping raise enough funds to rent the elephants until the ethical elephant experiences (Deedee’s Elephant Adventures) can generate enough funds to sustain itself and pay for the elephants. “We are in our 4th month of operation at Deedee’s Elephant Adventures, and our model is working,” shared Allie.
Also, raising awareness about the project is key, especially in the form of social media. Share the campaign or tweet Ricky Gervais, who is a huge animal rights activist.
“Right now, we can only impact the lives of the 12 elephants on a half-day basis. Conversations with the elephant owner about changing this should happen in about 2 months. However, we don’t have enough funds to start renting the elephants on a full-day basis yet… We’ve employed new people, trained and held English classes for employees, purchased higher-quality diets for the elephants, built new infrastructure, and many other things. We need your help if we hope to be able to rent the elephants on a full-day basis by the end of 2016. If you’re interested in contributing, please visit our crowdrise page,” shared Allie.
You can visit the Dollars for DeeDee page:
The video for the campaign:
Website for Deedee’s Elephant Adventures:
And here is a YouTube video of Allie:
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