CAMP: Maesa Elephant Camp
Maesa Elephant Camp is a privately owned elephant camp less than one hour from Chiang Mai. It is located in an idyllic forested setting with a waterfall welcoming you as you enter. The camp currently has 73 elephants and approximately 80 mahouts. Although technically owned by the camp, most of the elephants go home with the mahout to their villages each night. Food is supplied twice a day for the elephants at the camp. There is a full-time vet – Ronachid who constantly checks on the elephants. The mahouts are also very aware that the elephants must not be abused and they check on each other to make sure the elephants are all treated well. The villagers are able to generate income at the camp by selling bananas and souvenirs to the guests. Everything is very clean and well managed with concern not only for the elephants and the mahouts, but for the environment and surrounding villagers as well.
CAMP: Maetaman Elephant Camp
Maetaman Elephant Camp is a privately owned camp about one hour from downtown Chiang Mai. The camp is located on a river in a beautiful forested environment. The camp maintains about 60 elephants. It is well kept and clean as well. The difference with the Maesa Elephant Camp is that the majority of the elephants are owned by their mahouts and the pair is hired to work for the camp each week. The only unfortunate drawback from this arrangement is that it is more difficult for the camp owners to implement standardized levels of care for the elephants. I did not see any abuse occurring during my visit or signs thereof but was simply made aware of the uphill battle that the owners are facing when dealing with individual mahouts.
Meet the Artists of Maetaman Elephant Camp
Both camps are large well-run productions that cater to visiting tourists. Visitors can go on trekking adventures at both camps and are treated to elephant performances twice a day. These performances feature examples of logging, a game of soccer, various tricks, as well as a painting performance. The majority of elephant artists that I witnessed here have amazing control and focus with the brush. Many can now do the “flower” paintings and some have even started to draw.
Yes, this was actually done by an elephant. Much like the flower works, it is not so much that the elephant knows he’s drawing him or herself (then again who knows), but what is important is that the elephant can maintain the control necessary to produce pictures like this one. Truly amazing
Khun Anchalee and I at La Luna art opening, photo by Phinyo Sueato
During my visit, I had the pleasure of visiting with the always lovely, Khun Anchalee Kalmapijit and her family, as well as with her assistant, Phinyo Sueato, and the very talented genius that is Tossapol Petchrattanakool (Khun Choke). Khun Choke is the resident art teacher who has been working with elephants at both Maesa and Maetaman. He is really pushing the existing bounds of elephant art as we know it. Anchalee, Choke, and their team of elephant/mahouts pairs are making amazing progress and we are extremely excited to see what the future may hold.
One exciting project that the future holds is the establishment of Elephant Life Experience near the Maetaman Camp. ELE is a new venture by Khun Anchalee, which provides a peaceful wooded locale where Khun Choke can continue to work with some of the most talented elephant artists, like Jab. In addition to the painting program, ELE is designed to provide visitors a quiet spot to relax and to admire elephants in their natural setting all the while enjoying a picnic or a swim in the river.
Khun Choke and I discuss technique while the artist takes five, photo by Phinyo Sueato
The timing of my visit also allowed me to witness the spectacle that is the Thai National Elephant Day at the Maesa Elephant Camp. It is a day of ceremony and celebration in honor of these magnificent creatures. The day of celebration culminates in an elephantine feast. A buffet of grasses, foliage, and fruit is laid out on giant tables. Then at a designated time, approximately 70 elephants make there way down the nearby hill to the festival grounds to gorge themselves on the yummies laid out for them. Really a sight to see.
I would like to again thank Khun Anchalee, Khun Choke, Phinyo, the owners and staff of Maesa and Maetaman camps as well as the mahouts and of course the elephants themselves. To see works by some of the elephants at Maesa Elephant Camp, please visit us at www.elephantart.com.
Contact: Anchalee Kalmapijit
Contact: Tossapol Petchrattanakool