LOCATION: Ayutthaya Royal Elephant Kraal and Village
Meet the Artists
Find out more about the elephant artists in Ayutthaya
The Ayutthaya Royal Elephant Kraal is located just outside the city of Ayutthaya in Thailand. It is privately owned and largely funded through tourism. The Kraal maintains 90 elephants in all, 30 of which are bulls and 60 females. The Kraal has successfully bred 25 elephants since February of 2000. Eight of them have been born since September, 2006. There is a recorded history of difficulty breeding elephants in captivity, but here in Ayutthaya, the elephants are well taken care of and the staff is very knowledgeable so it surely does not seem to be the case. In addition to 90 elephants, the Kraal houses an equal number of mahouts and their families who live onsite.
Much of the funding for the Elephant Kraal comes through a tour location that it maintains at one of the major wats (temples) located in downtown Ayutthaya. The actual Kraal itself is located farther away from town and although is open to all, does not advertise for tourists. Some do find it and indeed come to visit but the “open door” policy at the camp is mainly to allow locals to be able to come through and visit “their” elephants. This is designed to promote a sense of community, pride, and ownership of the elephants by all within the local population.
The focus of tourism is the downtown location, which is capable of handling the busloads of visitors that it receives daily. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand, formerly Siam, so is abundant in breathtaking ruins and well worth visiting. Tourists can take rides atop the elephants around the many beautiful wats in the area during the day. Both the Kraal and the downtown Village are listed as World Heritage sites.
The restored Kraal still exists at the camp itself. It is a sturdy enclosure designed to hold a herd of wild elephants. It was designed in a way for the wild elephants to be herded inside the structure, where the King would then select the best and strongest elephants of the group to be used for labor or as military might. The last royal round up occurred over one hundred years ago, but the Kraal itself does stand as a reminder of elephants’ importance within Thai culture.
Today, owner Mr. Laithongrien Meepan, and his staff are working to return the descendents of these warrior elephants to their former glory as worshipped and revered animals. In an attempt to educate the public about their past glory days, the elephants are adorned in their old regal dress for parades, annual reenactments in battles of yore, as well as for films such as Alexander and Around the World in 80 Days.
Boon Rod gets a tongue massage - photo by Ewa Narkiewicz
Upon my recent visit, I had the honor of meeting with the owner and his staff, as well as with two Australian transplants, Ewa Narkiewicz and Michelle Reedy. Ewa and Michelle maintain a new program at the Kraal called, ElephantStay. ElephantStay, www.elephantstay.com, is a program designed to provide funding and care for retired elephants by providing a way for visitors to live at the camp and care for the elephants, be it for a day, a week, month, or as long as someone wishes to stay. As part of the program, it is your responsibility to care for, bath, feed, and cleanup after your elephant in addition to learning the basic rules of mahoutship. The program provides once in a lifetime up close and personal contact with an elephant while educating people what all goes into caring for these beautiful animals. There is a fee, but with it comes lodging in one of seven very well kept and comfortable units on site. This program is aimed at providing funding, care, and a purpose for elderly retired elephants who might otherwise fall into neglect as they can no longer bring in an income for their mahouts.
Two elder ladies get a bath in before mealtime.
In addition to helping the elderly elephants at the camp, Ewa and Michelle, have helped revitalize our painting program here at the Kraal. The funds that we supply to the camp are aimed at providing additional treatment and care for these retired beauties so that the ElephantStay program can grow and prosper. Despite a recent setback due to flooding that submerged many parts of the Kraal for 34 days, Ewa and Michelle have persevered to provide us with the latest in artwork done by seven different artists at the camp. The reinvigorated painting program has also benefited greatly from very caring mahouts and by the regular input of art students who visit from the local University. The students assist in providing artist direction during the paintings sessions.
A new star is born – Boon Rod paints! (this work is currently featured on our site)
Boon Rod and his mahout Raam - photo by Ewa Narkiewicz
The uniqueness of these works, aside from the individual artistic style of each elephant, is embodied in the paper itself. The majority of work by these new artists is being done on elephant dung paper. The paper is beautifully textured, odorless, and environmentally sound. With 90 elephants on site, each of which eats on average 300 – 500 lbs. of food daily, one can surmise that a fair amount of cleanup is necessary. There has been a new movement as of late to reuse this elephant by-product in larger elephant facilities throughout Southeast Asia. The dung is processed, bleached, screened and dried into a papier-mâché type material. The beautifully textured result is being used to create a variety of wonderful products such as paper, picture frames, bookmarks, jewelry boxes, even hats. Yes folks, “art from both ends of the elephant”.
We sincerely thank Ewa, Michelle, Mr. Laithongrien Meepan, the manager Mr. Kukrit Khwarlami, elephants Ging Gaow and Boon Rod. as well as their mahouts Mr. Kumron (Nigh) Rungreang and Mr. Suram (Raam) Pungsuk. Fantastic work is being done here at the Kraal and we are all very excited about the limitless possibilities of these larger than life animal artists. To see the new and stunning works being done by these talented elephants, please check out the pages of Boon Lot, Ging Gaow, Nom Chok, Yod Yeam, Petmanee Sri Ayutthaya, Kamlaitong, and PanLan.
AYUTTHAYA ROYAL ELEPHANT KRAAL AND VILLAGE
74/1 M.3. Tumbol Suanpik
Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya
Owner: Mr Lythongrien Meepa