Now, with everybody reassured we can get down to serious things and go ahead, with our reason for being here: the breeding program, with precious help from the Elephant Conservation Centre, Sayaboury. Therefore, we would like to take this chance to introduce you to the different steps involved in an elephant breeding program.
Step 1: Discover each other
After being given a few days to rest and to get acquaintance with their surroundings, Mae Ping and Mae Bounma are introduced to Tong Khoun, the make progenitor at the Elephant Conservation Center. The first step is for our two females to get used to his presence, while our mahouts can observe their behavior from a distance. For their own security, our females were introduced and get to spend time with Tong Khoun individually. For elephants, the best method to get to know each other is by sniffing.
Step 2: Check the reproductive cycle
The most important factor of a breeding program is that the reproduction act takes place during the female's breeding cycle. Elephants' cycles are very long and complex. A female elephant is fertile for approximately 3 days every 4 months, the gestation period is approximately 2 years and they can give birth only once every 5 years. For elephants growing up and living in the wild, they can detect these periods. Unfortunately this is not the case for our elephants.
Facing the threat of declining elephants' population in Laos, it is essential for us to be capable of predicting an elephant's cycle . Normally, we need a minimum of 3 cycles (approximately twelve months) to be able to predict their future cycles. Therefore, after a year of taking blood samples and analysis, we have a rough estimation of our females' cycle and are confident that Mae Ping and Tong Khoun were paired together at the perfect timing. All of this is thanks to the gracious help of Annabel, the Elephant Conservation Center's biologist and their laboratory.
Step 3: Let the magic of nature begin
Once the male and female elephants are used to each other, and when the mahouts are assured with their interactions, we can let them move to the real subject: intimacy. For Mae Ping, this step took a bit longer than usual as she was anxious the first few times Tong Khoun tried to mount her. This is understandable as she had never seen or been through this situation before. Fortunately, once Mae Ping was reassured about Tong Khoun's intention and behavior, everything went according to plans and they were inseparable.
Step 4: Wait and Hope
After all the above mentioned steps are done, there is not much left to do but to wait and hope. The only method to find out if an elephant is pregnant is to wait until her next cycle and take a blood sample. Therefore, for Mae Ping, we will know in January!
Visually we will first notice a visible increase in size of her udders after six months, and in order to know that the mahout has to know his elephant extremely well. From what we were able to observe, Tong Khoun and Mae Ping had a very active time together, and that Mae Ping was right in the middle of her breeding cycle. All we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed!
As Laos’ border is still closed at the moment, our manager Wendy has decided to take advantage of this quiet time to move forward with Mae Bounma and Mae Ping’s reproduction project.
As it has not been working so far with our male, our two youngest females, Mae Ping and Mae Bounma were heading to the Elephant Conservation Center located within a week’s walking distance from the Mekong Elephant Park.
The Elephant Conservation Center has offered their help to host our two females at their facility for a few months, where they have more breeders, and a professional biologist team to monitor and analyze our elephants’ cycles. Wendy, our 3 mahouts Mr. Saw, Mr.Kong and Mr. Singh embarked on a 7-day (later turned into 8-day) walk through the forests and villages to ensure a safe and sound arrival of Mae Ping and Mae Bounma to the ECC.
ECC is a renowned elephant sanctuary located in the Xayaboury Province that is constantly sharing its knowledge and expertise with us and will be mentoring all the process. We started our breeding program one year ago in partnership with them to prevent the progressive extinction of this animal.
The first step was to find Mae Ping and Mae Bounma’s reproduction cycle. The female is fertile for approximatively three days every four months, the gestation period is aprox 2 years and can give birth around once every five years. In the wild males and females easily detect these periods but unfortunately this is not the case with our elephants. Confronted with the decline in the number of elephants in Laos, being capable of predicting future cycles is essential.
The second step will be to find a good breeder and for the female to accept him!
Mae Ping and Mae Bounma’s Great Adventure
Our 8-day trip with Mae Ping and Mae Bounma from the Mekong Elephant Park in Pakbeng to the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury was truly an adventure, filled with challenges and surprises.
In the beginning, the trip was very physical as we had to cross Hmong (minority tribe) villages, where there were hardly any tracks to follow. We often had to start our days at 4am to avoid the miday heat and make it easier to climb the hills in the cool of the morning.
In the second part of our journey, the rainy season finally arrives and we got to discover the lush beauty of Laos in the best time of the year. We travelled through beautiful green rice paddies and corn fields. We were warmly welcomed by the generous local families and children.
We were able to eat and sleep within the forest thanks to our dedicated mahouts. They have grown up in the forest and, therefore, finding food and setting up camps to spend the night are second nature to them.
And because a real adventure is always unpredictable, we encountered our biggest challenge on day 6, when Mae Ping woke up limping badly. Our best guess was that something had happened during the night, as she's shown no sign of a problem the day before. We gave 2 full day of resting but she didn't get better, and with a heavy storm heading our way from Vietnam with strong winds, heavy rains, and possible landslides...
...we decided for Mae Ping and Mae Bounma to finish the last 60km of the journey in a lorry. It took us 4 hours instead of 2 days. This was our 2 elephants' first time in a truck. Overcoming this challenge, we finally made it to the Elephant Conservation Center safe and sound, and our journey was altogether a very unique experience.
A few days after our arrival, Mae Ping’s foot was no longer swollen and she wasn’t suffering anymore. It would appear that something had entered between the two toes and came out almost immediately, leaving only swelling visible.
The Mekong Elephant Park News: July 2020
PLASTIC FREE JULY INITIATIVE
We continue to share our tips and ideas as well as our latest zero waste creations on our Youtube channel.
You can check out more about our Plastic Free July through their report here.
We also made it our mission to preserve the forest and the environment, which is the natural habitat of our elephants, and which has graciously offer us with food and protection during our work days. With the border being closed in July, we took advantage of the downtime to plant banana, mango, papaya and many other trees around the park.
We believe that organic farming in one of the most effective and long lasting ways to go when it comes to making changes to the environment in Laos. It’s a way to say thank you to Mother Nature, to show respect to the biodiversity, to promote healthier soils. It’s important to pass this tradition to future generations not just as a challenge, but a way of life. In the near future we will be sharing more about our garden and Lao methods of alternative farming, so stay tuned.
The Mekong Elephant Park News: June 2020
CHILDREN DAY AND BEGINNING OF RAINY SEASON
On the 1st of June we celebrated Children's day in Laos. We invited the kids of our staff and from Pakbeng village to come to the Mekong Elephant Park to spend some time with the elephants. Some of them had never seen an elephant before, even though it is the symbol of Laos. We also took this chance to raise awareness about the situation of elephants in Laos, as it is never too early to start caring and contributing to elephant conservation.
Everybody had a lot of fun especially the elephants with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
With monsoon coming to Laos, rain and fresh food had been abundant for our elephants. Needless to say they were living their best life, eating, playing, and mud bathing all day long. Rainy season is always the perfect season for our elephants to climb over and slide down each other in the mud, and to enjoy all the fresh food nature has to offer.
The Mekong Elephant Park News: May 2020
A SPECIAL THANKS FROM THE MEKONG ELEPHANT PARK
"As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it ''
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-
With the gracious help of beautiful photos and footages from Aeroptique Photographs and the editing skills of Baptiste Saude, we were able to create a mesmerizing video that allow you to get a glimpse of life in the Mekong Elephant Park, to take a break from the hectic pandemic, to travel with us and to understand why more than ever we need your support.
Check out our video below.
At the Mekong Elephant Park, we appreciate all help from our guests, online and offline. No help is too little for us and our elephants, and as a result, we want to express our gratitude in a special way. Check out our gallery of personalized “Thank You” photos here.
Covid-19 is affecting the world as a whole, and the Mekong Elephant Park is unfortunately not an exception.
Due to the complications of the virus and the quarantine situation imposed by local authorities, our mahouts now cannot go back to the village and visit their family, due to the risk of being quarantined and not being able to come back to the park. The elephants remain the top need and priority as dependent on their mahouts. We apply a mahout rotation system to ensure security during this time, therefore each mahout now have to, at times, care for other elephants beside theirs.
This situation, paired up with the on-going drought in Laos has resulted in shortage of food and water in the forest for the elephants. On top, the occasional fires of the season (due to Slash and Burn Farming) has lead us to having to constantly move the elephants around to be sure they are getting their daily food allowance needed.
On a much brighter note, since the park is now less crowded, we actually took advantage of the situation to fully focus on Mae Ping and Mae Bounma’s reproduction project. This brings us to the greatest news we’ve received during this time:
We have got the results from the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) for Mae Ping and Mae Bounma: Both of them have ovarian activities, and this means that we are one step closer to a new generation of Asian elephants!
The Mekong Elephant Park wants to send the ECC its utmost gratitude for helping us through all this process! The ECC’s help and collaboration has been essential since day one in many aspects for the park: training Operation Manager Wendy and the mahouts to collect the blood samples, analyzing the blood samples in their laboratory and always being available for advice when needed. Again, a major thank you!
We have and will always try to stay positive during this difficult time. We believe that every dark cloud has its silver lining, and during these difficult times, the fact that we can focus on Mae Ping and Mae Bounma’s reproduction project is great news, and a huge source of motivation for us to keep on going. It goes without saying that all help we received from guests near and far are greatly appreciated. Your financial help, your efforts in spreading the words about our park, and your kind words all go straight to our hearts! This difficult situation will be over soon. Until then, stay positive, stay safe, and stay healthy.
Visit this link to learn more about Mae Ping and Mae Bounma’s reproduction project and how you can help.
According to experts, if things are left as it is now, the species of Asian elephant will disappear in the years to come. At the Mekong Elephant Park, this is a fact that we must not and cannot accept, as it would be a terrible failure for humanity. Throughout history and religions, elephants have always evolved with men, and in some Asian ethnicities, they have always been an important part of their identity, and a strong symbol for Asia as a whole.
Let us remind ourselves of what is killing the elephants today in Laos: their use for logging (mainly illegal). This practice is dangerous for the Lao primary forest which is gradually disappearing, but also for the elephants that injure themselves and are left abandoned, which results in them dying of exhaustion. The creation of the Mekong Elephant Park is the first step in Wendy’s and our staffs’ elephant conservation mission. We allow mahouts to earn reasonable incomes, to provide convenient environmental conditions of health and safety to our elephants but also for themselves.
Currently in Laos, there are more elephants dying than calves being born: 10 deaths for every birth. Therefore, the second mission that Wendy and our staff took, as part of the Mekong Elephant Park’s conservation project, is to create new generations of Asian elephants. We launched this project with two of our female elephants in the age of breeding:
When it comes to breeding elephants, two main difficulties present themselves:
Let us also remind that in the early stages of such a reproduction project, it is important to acclimate the elephants to blood sampling. During 6 months before even the use of a needle, the mahouts familiarized their elephants of getting their ears touched so that they adapt to such a practice without being afraid and that such gestures become a routine. It was also necessary for them to feel secure within the checkup area and therefore our elephants were taught to head there without fear on a regular basis.
Wendy now always makes sure to make this process as quick as possible for our elephants. The blood is then transferred to a tube and after 1,5 hours, the serum will separate from the blood. Wendy will then transfer the serum to a small tube, which will then be stored in the freezer waiting to be sent to ECC for analysis.
Another important factor in this project is to familiar Mae Ping and Mae Bounma with our male elephant: Kham Khoun. It is a usual problem for female captive elephants to be unused to be in contact with male elephants, and therefore lack the social training in sexual courtship.
At the Mekong Elephant Park, our female and male elephants are put together in their natural habitat, so they will get used to each other’s presence, which hopefully will result in our females being more comfortable presenting themselves to male elephants when they enter their production cycle. In the video below, you can see Kham Khoun and Mae Ping hugging each other, as well as Mae Ping presenting her backside to Kham Khoun. This is a really good news that she feels comfortable to interact with him in that way.
We will keep you updated on this project! We hope that in the near future, we will be able to bring you the great news of Mae Bounma and Mae Ping becoming mothers to calves in a well preserved and natural environment.
You wish to help us in this adventure, head this way!
MAE BOUNMA’S NEW LIFE
Back in the start of 2019, the Mekong Elephant Park found out about Mae Bounma, an elephant that spent a few previous years displayed on the side of the road, inactive and untaken care of, whilst her owners were trying to sell her. At Mekong Elephant Park, we want all elephants to live a happy and healthy life, and so rescuing Mae Bounma was our utmost priority at that time.
It is all thanks to the generosity of our visitors and our online community, through online donations, through direct donations, through visits to the park, through your help in spreading the words that Mae Bounma officially became a part of the Mekong Elephant Park family in August, 2019.
Mae Bounma is now strolling around, running, eating and bathing with our other elephants freely. Something she hasn't been accustomed to for a very long time.
She developed a very strong relationship with Mae Ping, just like sisters in a family. She respects the matriarch, Mae Kham. The 3 of them are always hanging around together, touching and cuddling. If we separate them, only even for 30 just minutes, they will make a lot of noise when reunited together again.
What is very difficult for female elephants whilst working in the logging industry is that they are forced to spend time very much alone. When Mae Bounma arrived at the Mekong Elephant Park, she was excitedly touching the other elephants and running between them as needed the extra closeness she did not have in the past years. We believe she must have missed bathing in the water when she was working, as she now spends a lot of her time just playing in the river.
Thanks again on her behalf for making her join us. You have made one heck of a happy elephant.
MAE PING & MAE BOUNMA'S REPRODUCTION PROJECT
Purpose: Fighting against the threat of extinction of the Elephants in Laos
In recent years in Asia, the number and condition of elephants has worsened at a very alarming rate. Only 400 still live in the wild and 400 in captivity, in which only a small number of females are given the time and opportunity to breed, which had led to more elephants dying than calves being born (10 deaths for every birth). According to experts, Asian elephants are a species that will disappear in the years to come if no preventive action is taken.
We believe it is essential for us to play our part to counter this threat. It is actually the reason why we have a conservation policy and project today.
At the Mekong Elephant Park lives Mae Ping and Mae Bounma, 2 females in the age of breeding that have now joined a reproduction program as nature cannot be left to act on its own. Indeed, attempting to get a female elephant pregnant is a step-by-step challenge. For the record, female elephants come into estrus (heat) with the ability to get pregnant only a few days every four months and it is through a clinical approach that one becomes aware of these very much crucial days. Furthermore, we are also challenged by the fact that captive elephants have, for some of them, lost their natural instincts making it even more challenging to read their hormonal pattern that is at times dormant.
So how are we acting and with what measures?
Every Friday, a blood sample is taken from both Mae Bounma and Mae Ping. We then send the samples to Elephant Conservation Center, thanks to their support, for the biologists there to keep a regular reading of the elephants’ progesterone level.
By following this hormone, the ovulation cycle is determined and tracked allowing to know when the females are to be placed with a male elephant.
We have a male elephant at the park, Kham Khoun, which we hope will be a match to our females. He has an important role to play for the reproduction initiative to be a success and just as much a priority.
At the Mekong Elephant Park, we make sure to provide our elephants with not only time with our valued visitors, but mostly time also where they can interact together as a herd to revive their natural bonding.
How can you help?
Of course, we can’t do this without your help. Unlike Thailand, in Laos, no elephant sanctuary is supported by public subsidy. Your support would help contribute towards:
You can truly make this happen and allow both Mae Bounma and Mae Ping be mothers to calves in a well preserved and natural environment.
Help us by making a donation, visiting the park or simply sharing our story on social media. Any little help would be their best reward.
Let us make it happen!
IT’S A SUNNY DAY: MEKONG ELEPHANT PARK’S NEW SOLAR PANELS!
At the Mekong Elephant Park, we always strive to keep an environment-friendly habitat and sustainable living conditions both for our elephants and mahouts. It means accommodations built from natural materials, no single-use plastics, and so on. However, it also meant that in the past, we could not have electricity at the park, and as a result our mahouts had limited use of electrical devices, and all our food and fresh drinks have to be stored somewhere else.
That brings us to our exciting news: We now have solar panels and electricity for the first time for all the mahouts!
It's a very important moment for the mahouts and for the Mekong Elephant Park. With the slow disappearance of the logging industry and the ban on unethical elephant tourism, a lot of mahouts no longer saw profitability in training younger generations to become mahouts. The Mekong Elephant Park wants to show that working in a natural environment with elephants, and in preserving sustainable elephant tourism, is just as much rewarding. We believe that with this new installment at the park, we have achieved an opportunity for the development of a new generation of young and promising mahouts with equal life conditions than in their home villages.
The mahouts can now charge their phones, listen to music, and have a fan when the weather is hot. We hope this will help to convince their families to come to live with them full time as well.
The other benefit from these solar panels is that we are now able to sell fresh drinks and fresh juices on site, for the ease of serving our customers.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MEKONG ELEPHANT PARK
AND OUR BELOVED DIRECTOR: WENDY LEGGAT