Check out Walking Elephants Home’s promotional video.
When we initially entered the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Seed Grant Challenge, we expressed that what our project really needs in this early stage is personnel, someone to be on the ground managing the emerging tourism and helping to shape the model of tourism we are building. The grant has allowed us to do just that, and Rebecca Winkler ’16 has now been living in a little mountainside hut in Huay Pakkoot for just over two months. We have welcomed our first guests and received positive feedback from their experiences with us.
With the help of the Patricelli Center we were put in touch with fellow Wes alum Dominique Callimanopulos, founder of Elevate Destinations, a boutique tour company based in the United States. Dominque connected us with Cynthia Ord, one of their freelance consultants based in Thailand who has worked in tourism development in Ethiopia and is part of a new team at Horizon Guides creating destination specific guidebooks. Cynthia visited our project and gave us lots of new ideas for how to hone in on our market and perfect our accommodations and experience. Cynthia performed a site audit for Elevate Destinations and based on her findings they have decided to create a special trip itinerary designed around coming to our project!
Cynthia also featured Sarah Blaine and Rebecca Winkler ’16 in an article in their most recent guidebook “Elephants in Asia, Ethically” as well as an interview from Sinchai, a mahout of 18 years and deputy chief of Huay Pakkoot village. The guidebook is free to download through Intrepid.
Seeing Sinchai’s name and interview featured so prominently in this guidebook was a really proud moment for all of us here at Mahouts Elephant Foundation. Mahouts voices are rarely heard in debates about elephant tourism, and never featured as expert opinions which is something we are trying to change. As a foundation dedicated to disrupting the current elephant tourism industry and bringing mahouts and their ideas to the forefront, this was a big win for us.
Co-founder Sarah Blaine has been at work across the UK engaging and signing our experience onto other small tour companies and has had success securing funding for us to have stands at two major tourism shows for the public in the UK; one in Manchester and the largest at Olympia, London. Sarah has been advising one of the UK’s leading tour companies in adventure travel, Explore, on their elephant experiences and a successful collaboration has formed. They are very kindly sponsoring the foundation for both travel shows. We will also be featured in a blog in September with Experience Travel, another UK tour company with a large customer base. They will also launch trips to the project at the same time which will then be featured on their website.
Since founding our project, we knew there was much to learn from the people and culture here in Huay Pakkoot that have coexisted with elephants and protected the forest for hundreds of years but we are continually amazed by how much we are learning by being present here full time. Each day holds new adventures and discoveries. We have realized that along with building up this model, we need to be documenting this way of living sustainably with nature and other animals and educate people on how respect and dignity can be core ethos in the way we approach the natural world. We hosted Cristina Schellman MS for 5 weeks at our project and she has just submitted her paper on Semi-Wild elephant behavior and the effects of human presence on it to the journal Anthropzoös. In this line of thought, we have also started to discuss a partnership with the Center for Compassionate Conservation at the University of Technology, Sydney to send over students and researchers keen to study the way the elephants live here as well as interdisciplinary research into the culture of Huay Pakkoot and the way elephants fit into that culture. The community here is very keen to spread their unique knowledge about elephants to a new audience.
In a short time, we will also be launching a crowd funder on Indiegogo to help our project reach sustainability while tourism is still developing. Since our launch we have had a steady increase in visitors, but we need to supplement tourism income while we are still new to be able to facilitate bringing more elephants home to the forest.
We would like to thank the Patricelli Center for their continued support of our project. We would never be progressing as successfully as we are without the Seed Grant funding or continued support from the center! Thank you!