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The Dara Elephant Camp at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand, seeks to not only rescue elephants in need, but to educate all of Southeast Asia on top standards for elephant care.
There are an estimated 2,700 captive elephants working in elephant tourism camps throughout Thailand, with conditions ranging from somewhat decent to extremely poor. Whether or not elephant tourism can be ethical is a hotly debated topic, but Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand, is tackling a more pressing concern, which is: how to improve the lives of all of the 4,500+ captive elephants currently believed to be living within the nation.
The luxurious 5-star property is set in 160 acres of jungle in Thailand’s golden triangle, where the Mekong and Ruak Rivers converge at the borders of Myanmar and Laos. It is currently home to 25 rescued elephants and their trainers, called mahouts, and is the center of research for the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF), which manages the property’s Dara Elephant Camp.
What began as an elephant rescue operation to providing a safer, healthier home with adequate resources and veterinary care to elephants working in poor conditions, has expanded its mission to improving the lives of all captive Asian elephants, regardless of their location. The GTAEF, led by director of elephants John Roberts, yearns for a world without captive elephants but recognizes that an immediate end to elephant tourism in Southeast Asia is neither practical nor possible, so now the organization focuses on the bigger picture: strategy of education, research and policy. By creating and maintaining the Dara Elephant Camp and Anantara Golden Triangle, the hotel and organization are able to educate the public, local communities and, perhaps most importantly, mahouts.
Speaking of mahouts, these caregivers who often pair with an elephant for life, are given free housing for their families, along with full medical care for the elephants, insurance, free education for their children and a monthly salary. Food is also provided for the elephants, which is no small consideration for a pachyderm eating 550 pounds of food daily. In addition the benefits mahouts receive, their wives have started a silk weaving business at the camp, retaining all profits and providing an outlet for selling handicrafts to Anantara guests. All of this is provided to mahouts in exchange for maintaining high standards of care and behavior toward elephants that GTAEF believes should be the standards of care for captive elephants throughout Southeast Asia. Currently there are no regulated standards, so GTAEF advocates by paving the way with its world-class team of scientists and veterinarians working together to develop and teach such standards based on their extensive experience at Dara and beyond.
Aside from assisting GTAEF’s mission by making reservations at Anantara Golden Triangle, guests have multiple opportunities to interact with the resort’s beloved elephants. “Walking with Giants” allows guests to join the elephants and their mahouts on their daily jungle walk. For a more hands-on approach, guests can take mahout lessons and learn to communicate commands by working on-one-on with an elephant and its caregiver. And for those with a particular passion for education and conservation, the E.L.E. (Elephant Learning Experience) brings the team’s experts together with guests to observe young elephants as they play, while sharing the latest in elephant behavior, biology and conservation.
For each booking of the E.L.E. program, Anantara makes an additional donation to GTAEF. Anantara Golden Triangle is a place where a 5-star resort vacation comes not just with the ultimate accommodations and amenities, but the opportunity to interact with, and directly improve the lives of, Thailand’s famous elephants, both onsite and beyond. ■