The Asian elephant.
The Lanna Thai kingdom of Thailand.
The Asian elephant is along with its cousin, the African
elephant, one of the last two surivors of a zoologial Order, the
proboscidea, which has some 350 species throughout its evolution. In
Thailand, Asian elephants once probably munbered in the hundreds of
thousand, and Lanna Thai, "The Land of a million ricefields", might
just as well have the name of neighbouring Laos: "The land of a
million elephants". To day there are only 2,000 to 3,000 wild
elephants remaining in Thailand. (In all of Southeast Asia and the
Indian subcontinent there are probably about 35,000 to 45,000 wild
elephant surviving in 13 countries.).
The Asian elephant has been officially declared an endangered
species and the animal receieves full legal protection in Thailand,
but number are plummeting nonetheless, Though more from destruction
of the elephant's forest habitat than from the direct pressure of
poaching. Shy and secretive in spite of their immense size and
strength it is very difficult to see Asian elephants in the wild,
even in places where they are found in good numbers.
Northern Thailand has always been a bountiful home for
domesticated elephants. Surprisingly, the superficially
clumsy-looking beasts are wonderfully agile slower, but far more
sure-footed than either horses or mules even on the most precipitous
mountain trails. Posing other advantages suchas having super night
vision and being able perfectly remember trails. They were the
favoured pack animal in the North.
In fact, a hundred years ago far more elephants were employed
to carry goods than to drag logs, the more glamorous job for which
they are best know. Elephants employed as draught animals are able
to carry about 300 kilograms(660 Pounds), a large amount but only a
small proportion of their body weight.
As late as the turn of the century there were over 100,000
domesticated elephants in Thailand. A great many of them were in the
North; in the 1880s there were 20,000 elephants employed in regular
caravan routes around Chiang mai alone. Today there only about 2,500
domestcated elephants living in northern Thailand.
Today most Thai elephants working at dragging log in the
forest, a task for which they are ideally suited since they can drag
carefully selected logs, particularly teak and other valuable
hardwoods, through thick forest without the necessity of building
roads which unnecessarily destroy the environment.
The best place to observe elephants at work and undergoing
training is at the Elephant Training Center.