The elephants at the "Elephant Park Project" Luang Prabang
located in the Elephant Village
An introduction to the Elephants living at the "Elephant Village" in Luang Prabang, protected and cared by professional staff
Our elephants here are freed from brutal logging work and we do our best to give them a better and more healthy future. Our elephants at the project area are regularly examined by vets and we get support from other professional organizations who work with elephants in Thailand and Laos.
They seem to be enjoying their lives here and the daily tourist rides are easy work which provides them with necessary exercise.
Before our female elephants came at the camp, they were all employed in the logging industry, which is hard work for elephants and quite dangerous because a lot of elephants get injured.
Easy elephant life at the Elephant Park Project & Elephant Village:
At the camp the elephants work between 1 and 4 hours a day, depending on the season.
They spend their nights in the jungle, where the mahouts bring them after work at around 2 or 3 pm. There, they have time to eat and rest for the next day's rides.
Early in the morning, (at 6.30 or 7 am) the mahouts pick up them in the jungle to bring them back to the camp, bathe them in the river, feed them some extra food and prepare for the arrival of the first tourists.
Presentation of our elephants:
- Age (in 2008!)
- Some particularities
AGE BEFORE BEAUTY: MAE COT
Born in Muang Ngun village, Hongsa district, Sayaboury Province. ca.1948 Mahout - Mr. Thith
Mae Cot, or "Miss Broken", is the most recognizable of the elephants who live at XL Camp. She was three when her mother's mahout accidentally cut off the end of her tail while he was scything the grass. At 60 years of age, this gentle, sweet-tempered madam is also the oldest of the elephants who reside with us.
The morning bath is a particular hardship for the gracious Mae Cot, who prefers to freshen up with a flinging mud bath. Each morning, she dawdles at the water's edge, drinking mournfully, while her mahout, Mr. Thith, urges her into the river. Slowly, she sways forward. A call of 'map' from Mr. Thith will send this elderly lady reluctantly to her knees. Once down, however, there are no half measures: Mae Cot submerges completely. From a distance, all that remains visible is the tip of her trunk acting as a snorkel and, perhaps, a bit of Mr. Thith.
Mr. Thith and Mae Cot hail from the same village in Hongsa district, as does her constant friend, the elephant Mae Boun Nam. Together, these two ladies stroll in the forest, gathering food and napping together under the stars.
Five years ago, while working in the logging industry, Mae Cot lost vision in her right eye. Therefore, bananas, one of her great pleasures, should be fed directly into her mouth, approaching from Mae Cot's left side. Gifts of coconut leaves and sugar cane are warmly received.
THE FLYING KICK: MAE NAM
Born in Luang Prabang province ca. 1958 Mahout - Keu
Mae Nam has been with the camp since November 2004. This 50-year old elephant lady is undoubtedly the matriarch, or leader, of the group. Only one mahout, Mr.Keu, can work with her consistently. According to one Thai elephant vet and specialist, Mae Nam does not show any typical "female" elephant characteristics, but rather "male" ones. This is perhaps the reason why it is advisable to avoid her back side. Mae Nam does not allow anybody or anything to approach her from behind. If another does so, or tries to steal her food, he or she is likely to get a swinging kick from her hind legs. This happens to her fellow elephants all the time, and some of them never seem to get any smarter…
Mae Nam is a very slow animal with an almost meditative disposition. The way she deliberately chews her food is the way she moves her huge body - except, of course, for her “flying” hind legs. She is very friendly, but her eyes seem to say, “Respect me - or regret it.” She has a keen sense of social hierarchy, and those showing the slightest inconsistency are not allowed to work with her again.
Born in Ban Dad village, Thong Mexai district, Sayaboury Province ca. 1992 Mahout - Mr. Lam
Mae Pua is the youngest of our elephant ladies and she and her mahout Mr. Lam are the latest addition to our team at Elephant Village.
Mae Pua was born in 1992 and lived together with her mum and Mr. Lam's family in Ban Dad village. Mae Pua was part of the family and grew up together with Mr. Lam. Unfortunately, as she was 4-5 years old her mother died. Mr. Lam, feeling sorry for this young elephant, left secondary school to be able to take care of her. Mae Pua was integrated into the daily life of the family and helped out in carrying baskets and food around, which is an easy job, even for such a young elephant.
At the age of 11-12 years Mae Pua started working in the logging industry. Mr. Lam didn't want his elephant to work hard, but he had no other choice as he had to earn money to cover the massive expenses for Mae Pua. But as soon as he heard of Elephant Village from a friend, he wanted his elephant to come here. Mr. Lam is very happy now that Mae Pua doesn't have to work as a logging elephant anymore and can enjoy her life, strolling around in the jungle and foraging with her best friend Mae Tem.
SEEING INTO THE DARK: MAE BOUN NAM
Born in Muang Ngun village, Hongsa district, Sayaboury Province ca. 1960 Mahout - Mr. Sao
Mae Boun Nam's beautiful trunk is always in motion: sniffing, feeling and sensing, replacing the use of her eyes. Blind in her right eye for many years, Mae Boun Nam only recently lost vision in her left eye.
Her mahout, Mr. Sao, can be seen bobbing his feet energetically against her body as he guides her along the forest tracks. ("Yes," Mr. Sao admitted. "My legs get very tired! Absolutely!") With his guidance and with the information gathered by her trunk, Mae Boun Nam finds her way through the thickest jungle, and down to the water's edge.
To watch Mae Boun Nam make her way forward is a beautiful thing. Her trunk seems to tap the ground like a blind man's cane, before curling upwards to take stock of the surrounding trees and foliage. If she comes across something tempting, even Mr. Sao's adamant calls and bobbing feet can't get her moving. Mae Boun Nam lives in the moment and takes her treats when they present themselves. Mahout and elephant are are a wonderful sight as Mr. Sao serenades the jungle with traditional Laos songs and Mae Boun Nam sways her head in rhythm with his music.
Sometimes, this lovely elephant can be found resting with her forehead against the trunk of a tree, stealing a power nap between customers. This happens after a night of restless sleep, when the insects keep her awake and set her ears to listening and her mind to wandering.
LOVE ME OR LET ME BE: MAE KHAM
Born in Chomphet district, Luang Prabang Province ca. 1963 Mahout - Mr. Yord
The story that the mahouts tell is that, one day, a tourist brought some bananas to the no-nonsense Mae Kham. Stretching out his hands, he offered the fruit to her but when she raised her trunk to take them, the tourist pulled them back. Mae Kham withdrew. The bananas were offered again. She stretched out her trunk but the tourist, teasing her, pulled them away again. On and on this went, until Mae Kham taught this cheeky tourist a lesson not soon forgotten.
Let this be a lesson to you: Mae Kham has no time for jokes and she has a keen appetite. Preferred foods are bananas and bamboo.
EATED AT THE BUFFET: MAE UAK
Born in Pakse ca. 1978 Mahout - Mr. Lae
A female elephant of about 30 years of age, Mae Uak was purchased in 2004. Transporting her the 1,000 km from Pakse in the south of Laos to the camp was a very special task. Because the elephants seemed very nervous, the truck that brought Mae Uak and her 60 year old mother to the camp in Xieng Lom near Luang Prabang had to drive for 36 hours without a break. Despite heavy rains, a mahout had to sit on Mae Uak's back for the whole journey, in order to keep her quiet.
Three months later, Mae Uak's mother died unexpectedly. Camp staff speculated that she was unable to adapt to her new surroundings, and especially to the new diet, that was completely different from what she had been eating in the south. An elephant veterinarian flown in from Thailand diagnosed worms in the liver and heavy digestion problems for both the mother elephant, as well as Mae Uak. Luckily, the camp was able to save Mae Uak’s life with careful monitoring and a change in diet. But the lesson of how elephants might react to changes in their surroundings, even if transported “only” from A to B in the same country, was a somber one. Mae Uak's character is generally sociable, though sometimes strong-willed. She can be tended by each of the camp's mahouts, something very unusual in an elephant. She seems perpetually hungry, and if one does not pay attention, she will quickly pull everything edible out of visitor’s pockets. Wherever there is something to eat, her trunk is there, as well. At feeding time, there are constant "trunk battles" for food between her and her herd-mates, the other elephant cows.
Though quick with her trunk, Mae Uak is very slow when it comes to walking uphill, and she strictly refuses to pick up her pace in response to the mahout’s cues.
Mae Uak is also very exceptional when it comes to the daily bath in the river. She is the only elephant that is able to submerge completely, and of course whoever is riding her goes under water too, to the delight of all the other mahouts.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: MAE SAN
Born in Hongsa district, Sayaboury Province ca 1978 Mahout - Mr. Pan
Mae San is the latest addition to our elephant team. Her generally sweet temperament has been manipulated against her in the past.
Like all elephants in the camp, Mae San worked in the logging industry throughout her young adulthood. Pictures taken immediately after her arrival show the ways in which she was maltreated. Sensitive parts of her underweight frame showed furuncles and abscesses, caused by stabs from a knife. Eczema on the spots where the logging harness would have sat indicated that this elephant was used to pull the log much too heavy for her, and that she had to work without periods of rest. We also suspect that she was given drugs such as Amphetamine to enable her to work even harder and to satisfy human greed.
It is especially unfortunate that, while she was skidding trees, a chain broke and caused Mae San to fall forward into some branches. One branch lacerated her right eye, and since then she has been blind on that side.
Truly, the camp has been a lifesaver for Mae San. Initially, she was a bit difficult because with only one eye she took longer to get used to her new surroundings and her new mahout. Also it seemed that she was not used to extra food rations and quality care, which actually caused her to feel insecure as well. Now, however, she trusts her new situation. She seems to enjoy teamwork, and to feel most secure walking in line. It is truly gratifying to see how Mae San is recovering, and camp staff try not to worry themselves that she is a bit of a "dirty brat", throwing mud on herself after each bath. By the way, Mae San is the fastest and, with only 30 years to her credit, the youngest elephant of our team.