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Elephant Village

Photographer: Rungroj Yongrit


Although the elephant has been the national animal symbol of Thailand since 2001, for the villagers of Ban Ta Klang , known as the Elephant Village – or ‘Ban Chang’ - the mammals are something more than just symbolic. Family members to be precise.


For the locals in Ban Ta Klang earn their living by farming and weaving and keep the elephants as pets – literally treating them like family members. The villagers are descendants of Kui ethnic people who settled along the Thai-Cambodian border and the ethnic minority are experts since ancient times for their skills in capturing wild elephants, training and raising them. Close to the village is the Elephant Study Centre, part of the Surin Project which is described as an ‘opportunity to spend time with elephants and learn about the intricacies of elephant tourism. It is primarily founded to encourage drifted mahouts and their elephants to return back home at the Elephant Village – keeping them away from begging on Bangkok and other touristic cities in the country - and support them for a better life, offering mahouts a monthly salary of 280 US dollar.


The mammals are trained to perform for tourists during daily shows which includes painting performances and performing circus style tricks with hoola-hoops and close encounter with visitors.


The estimated number of domesticated elephants has gone up to a reported 4,000, in the country in which Surin is one of several provinces with a large population of them. However there is also a severe decline of wild elephants left in Thailand .... a figure put at 3,000. But elephants are big consumers of vegetation with a considerable thirst to match. It is estimated they consume hundred of kilos on a daily basis while drinking dozens of litres of water during the day. For this reason the local province continues to run a project for forest conservation to replant with grass the land and farms around Ban Ta Klang.