As take-off for Thailand fast approaches, I wanted to share with you part of the process of putting this trip together and mention how much generosity I have found in elephant lovers whom I have never met.
Some of you blog fans have probably been wondering exactly what I am planning to do in Thailand and what Geoff and I will be focusing on for the film. I’ll give you a little teaser…I’ll have my own photos once we get to these places, but in the mean time, here are the places and people we’ll be meeting and interviewing.
I need to mention that I would never have been able to put this itinerary together without the recommendations of a few veteran elephant lovers, filmmakers and people who have been to Thailand giving me invaluable advice. This web of connections will be the topic of another blog post because it is so crucial to setting up filming under a tight time limit in a country where you have never been and where there is little time to sort out the people and stories that need or want to be told. The huge team behind this condensed trip deserves its own post. Soon…
Some background on the situation for Asian elephants in Thailand. All Asian elephants are endangered.. Today 2,000 of the remaining 5,000 elephants in Thailand are in captivity. At the beginning of the 1900’s there were approximately 200,000 elephants roaming wild in the country with 100,000 being used in logging or kept for other purposes. The decline in the elephant population is largely due to habitat loss which ironically has involved domesticating the elephants and using them to log the forests where they live(d).
Logging is now illegal in Thailand and over 80% of the original forests have been logged which leaves @ 2,000 domesticated elephants “out of work”, dependent on humans for 200 pounds of a balanced diet a day to survive. You can read more about the complexities involved on some of the websites on the links page.
And now…our trip as it stands so far
Geoff and I start off from Providence RI and after a 23 hour flight by way of D.C. and Tokyo arrive in Bangkok where we’re staying in a hotel near the airport. The next day we head off late afternoon on a plane north to Chiang-Mai which is where most of the elephant sanctuaries are based that we’ll be visiting.
We check in at the Porn-Ping hotel which looks like a crazy expensive place with huge pillars, golden statues and enormous rooms, but with the exchange rate ends up costing as much as a budget motel over here in the States.
The following day is when we actually start filming and interviewing. We are being picked up in Chiang-Mai and driven to The Elephant Nature Park where we will be staying for two nights and three days to learn about the elephants there and film them. I will be interviewing two women who are integral to raising world awareness of the plight of the asian elephant – Lek who founded the camp and Antoinette Van der Water who runs an organization called Bring the Elephants Home. The two women are friends and I look forward to sharing parts of the interviews with you.
We head back to Chiang-Mai where we avoid a five hour hair-raising ride through the mountains by taking a small plane to the town of Pai which is about 100 miles west of Chiang-Mai. We will film and spend the day with a mahout and the elephant Panom from Thom’s Elephant Camp, recommended by artist and filmmaker Galen Garwood. According to Galen, Panom is 50 years old and grew up with one mahout who died recently, leaving his daughter Thom to care for her. We will be interviewing Thom and a few of the mahouts about their experiences and stories with the elephants there.
We fly back to Chiang-Mai where we will be working for the day filming in the city with translator and wild-life photographer extraordinaire Bruce Kekule. We will visit a temple north of the city and attempt to find elephants in distress around the city of Chiang-Mai which will be challenging in several ways, logistically and emotionally.
Are you exhausted yet? We’re not half-way done!
The next day we will be visiting the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang south of Chiang-Mai which is known among other things as the place where elephants play instruments built for them in a sort of orchestra which Richard Lair co-founded. Lair knew he wanted to work with elephants from a very young age and emigrated to Thailand in 1980 from California. He is the International Relations Officer and Advisor at the National Elephant Institute of Thailand based at the Center. We will be interviewing him as well as a mahout who works there named Supat Sutti. Supat has arranged for us to interview a man outside of Chaing-Mai who owns six elephants whom he treats as family members.
Next to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center is an elephant hospital with three famous elephants who are victims of landmines. These elephants are profiled in a movie being created by Windy Borman called The Eyes of Thailand. Stay tuned for her sure-to-be-powerful movie about the elephants at the hospital.