As Laos develops, can it make space for wild elephants?

Mae Sengchan and Mae Kham meandered down the banks of the Mekong River in Laos, munching on bunches of bananas and piles of sugarcane.

In their mid-to-late-fifties, the rescued pair of endangered Asian elephants are far past their logging days. The two are now in the care of the Mandalao Elephant Conservation centre, a “friendly interactive tourism” company that is trying to balance business and conservation.

“These elephants are a member of my family. At times they are like my daughters, other times like my wife,” said Yot Jouttiphong, a mahout, an elephant handler or caretaker, for Mandalao just outside Luang Prabang in northern Laos. He’s worked with the species for more than two decades but has concerns for their future. 

“Elephants in Laos are getting fewer and fewer,” he said. “I hope we can find a good solution to increase the number of elephants.”

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