I came to Thailand ten years ago with a vague notion of what an elephant is. I came to find out to inform an idea for an animation. What I came to face was a problem, one that just wouldn't go away... one that was difficult to face and has no simple solutions...a kind of elephant in the room...
The situation for elephants worldwide is desperate. The need for conservation essential. But there are HUGE conflicts and contradictions to face. The desire to save the elephants often comes from a western perspective which gives no real understanding to what the situation is; nor to the people who really know and work with the elephants here. Often uneducated and from the lower classes and hilltribes, these are dedicated people whose whole history and future is entwined with the elephants. The Karen and The Suay (or Kui), the Shan and the Khamu. Without these men (and a few rare women)and their familes,communities and culture there would be no elephants at all in Thailand at all, and none of us (farang) would be able to come close to these great creatures.
The emphasis is always on 'saving the elephants' , often with a desire to set them free... but this is naive and idealistic and does not address our own culpability -there is no wild left, no space without human interference and the potential for elephant human conflict.Their future is not in our soft idealistic hands but in the hands of the seemingly invisible mahouts. Often scape-goated as the ‘enemy’ it is in their rough hands that the answer lies. But sure, our money will help. Without mahouts there simply is no future for the elephants.
Since 2000 I have been visiting and now live and work in Thailand. This is the on-going research project that motivated me to change my whole life perspective and position (physically and mentally). It has become my motivation for life, my raison d'etre, and ten years on, with a myriad of personal experiences and histories I have had the privilege to share, I think it's time to share.