The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) Phuket, a sibling venture to the ENP projects in Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, Surin and Cambodia, will be located near the Khao Phra Thaew Wildlife Sanctuary, on 70 rai donated by Montree Todtan, former owner of At Hill Adventure Park in Chalong.
Sangduan “Lek” Chailert, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation, joined Mr Montree to inspect the site last week. Joining them was and Louise Rogerson, founder of the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival foundation (EARS Asia), who will be Project Director at Elephant Nature Park Phuket.
“An elephant welfare camp in Phuket is a necessity,” Ms Lek told The Phuket News on Wednesday (May 11). “I investigated elephant camps here and found that many elephants are too old to work, some are blind, injured and too disabled to be sent home, then they die. It’s very sad.”
According to ENP Phuket, there are 26 elephant camps in Phuket with a total of 216 captive elephants used in the tourism industry for riding and performances. At some of the elephant camps, it has been reported that elephants... can give up to 30-40 rides per day in Phuket, the project noted.
“Almost every tourist here is presented with a tour package that includes elephant trekking, an elephant show or a baby elephant at a party. This is not impressive for the tourism image here,” Ms Lek said.
“I was asked by tourists why Phuket does not provide welfare care for its elephants. That is part of our motivation to open the park. Also, tourists must realise that wildlife is best seen roaming free and when more care is given to the animal,” she added.
Ms Lek’s credentials in elephant welfare are extensive. Born to a small hill tribe north of Chiang Mai in 1962, she has since been featured in documentaries produced by National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and the BBC.
In 2010, she was invited to Washington DC to be honoured as one of six “Women Heroes of Global Conservation”. She was named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of Asia” for her work in conservation in 2005 and the Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet” in 2001.
“Our new project, Elephant Nature Park Phuket will embrace a different type of elephant tourism. We will be removing the saddle and allowing our elephants to walk and forage naturally in the forest, to socialise with each other, to bathe and play in the lagoon, and to roam free,” ENP Phuket announced on Wednesday.
“Both local and foreign visitors will be able to learn about and enjoy seeing happy and relaxed elephants at our project. It’s a win-win for everyone… Times are truly changing for the Asian elephant and we thank you for being part of this change.”
Eleven elephants have been confirmed to be handed over to the park, Ms Lek said. Mr Montree will also bring elephants from his camp to the park, which will later be expanded to 100 rai,” she added.
Volunteers, vets and other specialists will be on hand to provide care for the pachyderms on site, and the number of visitors to the park will be limited.
“Thais will be able to enter the park free, but foreign tourists will be charged the same prices charged at ENP Chiang Mai,” Ms Lek said. As with the other ENP projects, the money raised will go directly to maintaining the welfare of the elephants and other wildlife on the reserve.
“We are now working with the Save Elephant Foundation, EARS Asia, the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand and officers from the Khao Phra Thaew Non-Hunting Area Office in Thalang,” Ms Lek said.
“The park will not only be home to elephants, but also many other forms of wildlife,” she said.
Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, voiced his strong support for the project: “Phuket is still a hell for wild animals, with tiger shows, elephant shows and wild animals in the city and at the beach at night, being exploited all over the island…
“Having the Elephant Nature Park on the island will set a new standard for animal welfare and start the change the island so badly needs,” he said,