In an ideal world, all elephants would be wild. But we don’t live in an ideal world so we have to look after all elephants, whether in the wild or in captivity. This is the view of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF). The not-for-profit organisation was established in 2005 and aims to improve the lives and welfare of captive elephants while also taking part in conservation efforts for wild elephants.
The Chiang Rai hotels helping elephants
GTAEF is located at two hotels in Chiang Rai: Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort and the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. The resorts cover all the administration costs of GTAEF while Anantara’s parent company, Minor International, is the largest single donor with money donated going directly to helping elephants. The work of GTAEF and the hotels was recognised in the Responsible Thailand Awards 2021.
Anantara and Four Seasons are situated a short distance from one another in the scenic Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai. It is in this northern corner of the country where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet in the area known as the Golden Triangle.
Elephant and mahout welfare
Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation helps elephants from around Thailand. Some have been rescued from the streets while others have come from trekking camps or illegal logging camps. GTAEF helps not just the elephants, but also the elephant handlers (mahouts) and their families.
Instead of buying the animals, GTAEF rents the elephant from the mahout. They also help with food, accommodation, health care and insurance for the mahouts and their families while the elephants benefit from a forest environment, shelter and veterinary care. GTAEF aims to show that it is possible for elephants and mahouts to earn a living ethically and without the need to be working in illegal logging camps or at elephant shows.
Mass tourism remains the only income source available to keep the majority of Thailand’s captive elephants fed and so cannot be abandoned or boycotted but it is important to work with business and mahout communities to modify welfare and sustainability aspects.– Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation
The role of the mahout is often misunderstood and, unfortunately, the poor behaviour of a small minority of elephant handlers can reflect unfairly on the majority who love their elephants. GTAEF takes a considered approach recognising that “happy mahouts keep happy elephants”. By showing that an ethical elephant facility can provide a mahout with financial stability, it can encourage other mahouts to seek at all elephant centres.
GTAEF donates to projects that help mahouts preserve their culture and at the same time benefits the elephants. This is done not just at the foundation’s base in Chiang Rai, but also at the home villages of the mahouts. Many of the mahouts at GTAEF are Suay (also known as Kui) people from rural Surin in north-east Thailand. The Suay have long-standing links with elephants that stretch back many generations.
Within the grounds of the Anantara in Chiang Rai, GTAEF has helped the wives of the mahouts establish a silk making enterprise. At the mahout village, silk worms are grown and the silk extracted from the cocoon before being dyed, spun and then weaved into exquisite scarves which are sold at the boutique at Anantara and Four Seasons. All profits from the sales of the scarves go directly to the women making them.
Under the umbrella of Elephants for Kids, GTAEF is involved with a number of different children’s charities throughout Thailand. This includes the Thai Elephant Assisted Therapy Project for autistic children and Think Elephants International which helps orphans and under-privileged children.
Wild elephant projects
Although it continues to improve the welfare of captive elephants, GTAEF knows that an elephant’s true place is in the wild. The Chiang Rai-based organisation supports projects that are helping to keep elephants in the wild.
GTAEF contributes both financially and physically with the annual wild elephant count in Kui Buri National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. The elephant count monitors the number and demographics of wild elephants in the park and GTAEF also contributes to the reforestation of the area through tree planting initiatives.
Working with the Elephant Conservation Network, GTAEF has supported projects which help train rangers at National Parks. And the work of the rangers helps protect wild elephants from human-elephant conflict which can happen often as the elephants lose their natural habitat and venture from forests into farmer’s fields. And away from Thailand, GTAEF works with Wildlife Alliance and Minor International to protect forest in the Cambodian Cardamom Mountains.
Visit the elephants in Chiang Rai
The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort and the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle both offer luxury accommodation. By staying at either resort, visitors help support the ongoing work of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. There is also the opportunity for some memorable elephant experiences as you learn more about these incredible animals in their natural habitat. Find out more in the links below:
Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF)
Elephant experiences at Anantara, Chiang Rai
Elephant experiences at Four Seasons, Chiang Rai
The Anantara also offers a unique form of accommodation in the form of their Jungle Bubbles. The transparent, luxury pods offer unobstructed views of the elephants enjoying their natural environment and makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
All photos from Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation Facebook page
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