Arts by Elephants

Elephant Park, Elephant Camps & Owners|How to Save Elephants

Elephant Park Owners

Elephant Park Owner

Elephant Park Owner – Ken Chailert

When the Chailert family started this project in 1996 there was only a simple welcome sign, a hand-full of staff, less than a hand-full of elephants. They promised Elephant Riding, Oxcart Riding and Bamboo Rafting for any visitor who dared to wander down their dirt track. They harboured dreams even in the beginning, to create a true community enterprise; committed to improving the local environment, fostering partnerships with local business and most importantly improving the livelihood of Elephants.

Times have changed in the 15 years Mae Taeng Elephant Park has been running, they are now home to around 70 elephants, employing people from the local, indigenous Hill Tribes, with a fully functioning Elephant Clinic that can be used by elephants across the province; taking on full-time vets in the process. The Elephant Park now offer a whole host of activities including: Mahout Training, Elephant Safari Packages, Elephant shows and of course, Elephant art.

Ken, the American born owner, is first to acknowledge that when he first set up the Mae Taeng Elephant Park it was with capitalistic intentions. He believed that he could set up an elephant park, “run a circus act and make a tonne of money”. However he quickly realised that an elephant park is not the best business when it comes to the balance sheet, and today he wouldn’t want it to be. In fact there have been years when the elephant park has not been financially viable and the whole Mae Taeng family had to dig into their pockets to keep the park running. The adventure has moved onto what he described as a more spiritual level, with a genuine love for the elephants, the environment and the staff.

Elephant Park Community Enterprise

The hope for the future is that the elephant park will be self-sustainable and totally conservation orientated: no more shows, no more trekking and no more original canvas painting. The first move towards this was the purchase of land near the elephant park. This land will be used to grow and farm the food needed by the elephants. This is a positive move for a number of reasons: Its financially beneficial leading to more resources being allocated directly to the elephants. Mae Taeng Elephant Park can also insure that the food is fully organic, without contamination of poisons and pesticides which harm the elephants. Also this is a huge step towards being the self-sustaining, environmentally friendly project that Mae Taeng Elephant Park are aiming to become.

In the near future the elephant park want all machinery to be run on 100% bio fuel, as you can imagine in transportation of elephants, food and other necessities a lot of machinery is needed- it’s imperative that these are all environmentally friendly.

Mae Taeng Elephant Park is currently virtually chain free, unlike most camps in Thailand. By 2015 Ken wants the park to be totally chain free. A non chain enclosure was erected, using bamboo, steel and concrete, however Orachai managed to destroy a whole wall. Ken appreciates that when dealing with male elephants that the safety of the mahouts and customers is paramount. Virtually all elephants walk without chains, but this a precarious situation; if an elephant is temperamental and became aggressive, apart from killing it, there is nothing that could be done to stop it. This is a situation that of course nobody wants. Ken appreciates the mahouts request chains in order to exert some control over the elephants, but he hopes that they can be weaned away over time. Ken believes an elephant that is content, happy and loved would have no need to be aggressive.

As well as painting on canvas for our bags, the elephant park elephants paint standard 2 and 3 dimensional paintings most days at the camp, this is performed on paper recycled from elephant dung. Initially the dung is used to fertilize farm land, with left over fibre being put in large vats, no dung is ever wasted. The pulp from these vats is then washed and spun and transferred to large trays. Silkscreen’s fastened to wooden frames are then dipped into these trays, leaving a thin layer of pulp on the screen. The screen is the left to dry for 12 hours and voila…. dung paper, ready for Charlie or Suda to paint one of their fantastic pictures. The whole meticulous process is 100% chemical and bacteria free.

Drug use is a serious problem in Thailand especially in low-income regions and amongst hill tribes, this is due to a number of factors most notably lack of education. Mae Taeng has joined up with the Thai police forming anti-drug programmes. Kens philosophy is to educate not criminalise: believing that sports and spirituality can be used as the solution to any problems. With that, Mae Taeng have a variety of sports teams including football and baseball, keeping the workers active and happy- ken himself raised to very active sons on this philosophy of spirituality and sports.

Currently Mae Taeng Elephant Park are working on building an art gallery and education centre, Ken felt elephant parks like his were being treated unfairly by the media or being tarred with some other unscrupulous camps brush. He is hoping to educate people about what he is trying to accomplish with his elephant camp project as well as show off some wonderful elephant art in a more structured setting. It is the Chailert Families committed protection of Asian elephants, their handlers and families, that makes their tale such a compelling story, this is the side he wants the world to know.