I arrived Sayaboury a day before my 2-night/3 day visit to the Elephant Conservation Centre. I had advised the Centre of my hotel name for pickup. I waited for an hour after my scheduled pick-up time and contacted the Centre. They had forgotten to pick me up....so I spent another night in the hotel with the promise of pick-up the following day.
They did remember me the following day; I arrived at the Centre and was welcomed by my guide who took my information and gave me a rushed tour of the facility - the highlight of which was going to be a visit with 2 female elephants in the training compound. Two visitors from the UK has just finished their 'mahout' lesson when one of the employees outside of the compound decided to ride his motorcycle.
The employee and the bike were on a hill overlooking the compound. He could not get the bike started so a couple of the workers decided to push-start it - down the hill and onto a path right beside the elephant training compound. They were all cheering and laughing when the bike started down the slope - soon to be laid down on its' side, throttle wide open, wheels spinning next to the elephants compound.
All the employees, including the 'mahouts' were laughing and carrying on like children. In the mean time, the two female elephants were terrified! One was chained so she couldn't back away far enough and the other, larger elephant backed tightly into the fence surrounding her. They trumpeted in terror and relieved themselves in fear. No one tried to comfort and calm them as the workers were too busy laughing. We three (visitors) were disgusted at the employees behaviour - all of them.
The mahouts are not experienced (except the mahout at the nursery) or empathetic to the elephants needs. In training, they yell their commands at the animals and are very rough with them. I have worked with animals during my lifetime and visited other elephant sanctuaries and these actions are totally unproductive as they are trying to intimidate the elephants - which is contrary to the animals natural learning processes. I am not an expert but do believe there are far better methods of training.
The two women from the UK arrived at the centre at lunch time (rice and vegetables). No lunch was offered to them but they were told they could purchase lunch for $10.00!! Unbelievable as a meal in Sayaboury restaurants were a third that price. They had each just spent over $200.00 to be there and the least the Centre could do was offer them lunch as the location is very remote and no other food is available until dinner.
There is no one 'in charge' of this centre - no one to speak with regarding the shortcomings of the Conservation Centre. The idea of elephant conservation is admirable; however, I believe this centre has a long way to go to become a credible conservation program open to tourism.
If you have the opportunity to experience elephants at another location, I would suggest you do just that and, chances are, you'll have a more rewarding and valuable experience than you would here.
On the positive side of things, we did have the opportunity to spend some time with the vet which was enlightening and interesting. She is providing medical assistance to elephants in the area which is a very worthwhile program.
Overall, I was very disappointed with the Elephant Conservation Centre....but, as with everything in this world, it's 'beauty' is in the eye of the beholder.
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