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Take Part with over 80,000 People at the Elephant Festival in Sayaboury, Laos

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The Elephant Festival is an event organized by ElefantAsia to promote the conservation of these animals in Laos.  The first festival was a huge success and has now become an annual event in February, with this year’s festivities taking place on February 20th-21st.  Elephants, their trainers (called mahouts) as well as people from all over Laos gather in Sayaboury Province for this popular event with all kinds of activities and shows on display at the festival.

The Asian Elephant is the largest living land animal in Asia.  The elephants can grow to about 2-3.6 meters tall and weigh 3,000-5,000 kilograms.  Its habitat includes South Asia and Southeast Asia.  This species of elephant is considered endangered, with less than 50,000 left in the wild and only 700 of those in the Laotian wilderness.  In addition, there are only 560 domesticated elephants in the country.  Throughout history, the animals have been tamed and trained for a number of reasons such as logging, milling, ceremonial purposes and as a military animal during warfare.

The combination of habitat loss, expansion of agriculture, and hunting has left this beloved animal endangered.   Estimates have the Asian Elephant to be totally extinct in Laos in 50 years if conditions do not improve.  Laos, formerly known as Lang Xang, (the Land of a Million Elephants), enjoys a long history and culture with these animals.  It would be a shame if the land of a million elephants has no more of these animals left in the wild.

ElefantAsia is a non-profit organization dedicated towards the protection of the Asian elephant.  ElefantAsia is attempting to reverse this unfavorable trend towards the elephants by concentrating conservation efforts in three main areas: veterinary, educational and economical support.  A lot of logging elephants get injured or are overstressed and do not receive adequate healthcare.  In response, ElefantAsia is trying to find alternative employment for the elephants, such as ecotourism that can benefit the animal, the handler and the environment.  However, logging still persists, so the organization offers mobile veterinary units to travel to the rural areas and offer free health care to the animals.

The Elephant Festival was first held in 2007 as a reminder of the delicate situation Laos and these giant animals face.  It was a huge success and has now become an annual event.  Elephants and mahouts come from all over the country to Sayaboury to attend this festival.  Last year’s event coincidentally took place on February 14th, with a lot of the activities having Valentine’s Day themes.

There will be an elephant baci ceremony and monk blessing at this year’s festival.   This moment further underlines the importance of the elephants to the people because baci ceremonies are usually reserved for auspicious Laotian occasions.

The festivities include a logging demonstration displaying the strength and agility display of these animals.  They will obey a series of sophisticated commands from their mahout, again showing the intimate bond and communication man and elephant can share.

The elephants will also casually march their way through the crowded streets of Sayaboury, so all can catch a glimpse of these gentle giants.  Others will shower themselves by the river and even go as far as diving into the water to cool off even with the mahout on its back.

The Elephant Festival is more than just an elephant-themed event.  Last year, the event generated $2.8 million, according to the provincial finance department, and about $1.5 million was injected back into the Sayaboury community.  Money from food, guesthouses, handicraft and marketplace sales all contribute much-needed income into one of Laos’ poorest districts.  Slowly, this charming community is garnering a reputation as a must visit for visitors to Laos.

The Elephant Festival in Sayaboury is an anticipated event where Laotians from across the country as well as tourists gather to see these mammoth animals.  Last year’s festival had over 80,000 attendees.  If you are interested in the festival, you may contact us and have us include it in your itinerary.  If you have the time, we would like to introduce a day tour where you can get up close and personal with an elephant.  Our Elephant Adventure – Luang Prabang day trip will take you to the Elephant Park Project, not too far from Luang Prabang.  You will climb aboard the back of an elephant and rumble through the beautiful scenery on a one hour ride.  You will also visit the Elephant Asia Show, an outdoor museum focused on elephant preservation.  The day trip is a great extension to our Luang Prabang Discovery tour.

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