By: Kim Klein
After three long flights totaling 23 hours and a 12 hour layover, the enrichment supplies and I arrived in Laos! Biologist Anabel and Marketing director Jozef, eagerly awaiting my arrival, picked me up at the airport in Vientiane. Our first stop was for pizza. From there, we had a 6 hour van ride and a short boat ride to the Elephant Conservation Center located along the Nam Tien Lake in Sayaboury. Of course, we spent most of the ride talking about ELEPHANTS!
When we arrived at the center, it was afternoon and the resident elephants were bathing in the river. I met and observed several of the rescued elephants, watched them participate in target training, and visited the on-site hospital. Anabel introduced me to the Mahouts and other staff; we visited the enrichment yard and the new 1.5 acre socialization area. Diving into the purpose of my trip, Anabel and I discussed what types of enrichment the center uses and what supplies we had collectively gathered to make new enrichment items including barrels, fire hose, rope, tires, and balls. I was also informed about the individual elephant’s personalities and with this information we devised a plan of action!
Each day, I had several people assist me in creating and dispersing enrichment items. The Center’s staff and volunteers would gather together and get to work building puzzle feeders out of recycled barrels, elephant sized balls using fire hose and recycled tires, chimes made of bamboo, and rattle bags. Once the enrichment was ready to go, the Center’s guests would trek with us to the enrichment yard to help us fill up the feeders and spread out the new toys. From the enrichment workshop to the elephant yard, we had to climb through the forest and over hills. Carrying the new toys, this sometimes took us more than 20 minutes! Over the course of my two week trip, with the help of staff and several volunteers, we created 15 novel enrichment items for the center’s 7 elephants!