Woody, our guide and trainer, asked us to pair up and carry one basket of bananas towards the elephant enclosure that was about 20 meters ahead. I heard the other pairs in the group mumbling as they carried their baskets that it was around 20kg. I was gasping that it was at least 30kg and was darn heavy for the two ladies to carry but we mustered all our strength to half drag and half carry it to the enclosure. It seemed like a breeze for the rest of the group but we made it nevertheless, just a few seconds later.
At the enclosure which was about the size of 2 basketball courts, Woody briefed us about the elephants which numbered around 12 and the nearest ones were just a few steps away us. They were all rescued from other camps where Baanchang owner felt were not best for the elephants’ quality of life. Some of the rescued elephants were orphaned, sickly or had temperament issues. Baanchang owner’s purpose was to rescue these elephants, nurture them back to health and to provide them with highest possible quality of life. Those we saw in the enclosure looked rather tamed although they were humongous. We were told that there was one that was blind and another that had a bad temper.
All the elephants were chained at one leg to a secured post on the ground. We were told that the area around the camp had vegetables and fruit farms belonging to other tenants and leaving the elephants to roam unattended would risk them going into these farms trampling and devouring their crops. Woody explained that Baanchang owner was in the process of purchasing more land around the camp to provide a larger space for the elephants and to fence up the area to prevent the elephants from going to other properties. At present, they had no option but to chain the elephants when they are not being supervised. Thankfully, the elephants were more often out and about with the real mahouts during the day, if not otherwise out with us visitors trying to be their mahout for the day.
There was one baby male elephant that was clearly a favorite with our group. Woody explained that he was recently purchased by Baanchang owner who found that he was not well cared for at another camp, likewise for all the other elephants, there will be some kind of rescue and purchase story involved. The cost of purchasing an elephant could range from between USD20000 and USD60000 depending on its age and gender. The younger (non-adult) and female elephants will cost less than a male adult elephant. Baanchang owner had to take bank loans to purchase some of the elephants and these tours at the conservation camp were one of the ways to fund this cause.
Well, purchasing an elephant may seem like a one time huge cost but maintaining such a large majestic creature would also mean large recurring costs. Elephants are mega herbivores and they can consume up to 150kg of plants and fruits each daily. An adult elephant can weigh about 5000kg and 4000kg and height at shoulder level about 3m and 2.5m for male and female respectively. They drink between 80 and 200 liters of water each daily and can live up to 80 years old like humans. Woody claimed the Thai King has the oldest elephant believed to be over a hundred years old. He also shared that pregnant female elephants will carry its baby in the womb for one and a half years before delivery and a newborn elephant weighs about 100kg. The mother will wean their young for another 2 to 3 years resulting in a birth interval of 4 to 5 years.