Feed The Elephants Program
As the world reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic, elephants in captivity suffered just as much as the humans caring for them. As did most countries worldwide, Lao closed its borders to visitors for nearly two years, eliminating anticipated revenue generated through tourism - income desperately needed to ensure that the elephants were fed and cared for.
After the first several months of lock-down, the situation for many elephants and elephant tourism venues grew increasingly dire.
While it seems logical to ask why these elephants simply couldn't be released back in the wild - where they could feast on jungle greenery - they couldn't. This is because most captive elephants were taken from the wild - 40 or 50 years ago, when it was legal - and put to work to earn money from their labor. Now, the majority of these elephants are too reliant on humans, their owners, mahouts and tourists, to survive. They don’t have the skills or instincts to make it in the wild.
In response, the Lao Elephant Initiative (LEI) began to provide funding for a grassroots project, called "Feed the Elephants” (FTEP). FTEP worked actively and aggressively, with limited funds and people power, to try and save those elephants.
It was a simple and effective effort. After assessing and determining which elephants and camps were in the most dire need, FTEP identified and took on temporary responsibility for 8 elephants at 2 camps located in and around Luang Prabang. The number of elephants needing immediate care changed from day to day, as more owners asked for help and we were able to see the condition of their elephants worsening.
Specifically, for nearly a year, LEI funded the FTEP program which:
Purchased, delivered, and fed the elephants FOOD from local farmers
Provided fresh WATER to the elephants daily
Hired Animal Doctors International to provide professional VETERINARY CARE
Hired back MAHOUTS who had been let go from other camps so the elephants had a critically important, loving caregiver
Notably, no cash or compensation of any kind was being given to camp owners. There was only one paid staff to manage the program.
Ultimately this played a crucial role in saving several elephants from starvation and potentially, death.