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Thai Elephants
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In Learn More the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects. Special thanks to the Research Division.

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Did You Know?Did You Know?

Unlike most of Thailand's forests, the wooded areas surrounding the country's hundreds of Buddhist forest monasteries still stand. The monks who live there deserve all the credit. The golden sheets of saffron cloth that they wrap around the trees save the trees from being logged. The trees, in turn, create sanctuaries and keep pockets of habitat intact for Thailand's wildlife, including elephants.
Although Thailand introduced a logging ban in 1989 to protect the country's last refuges for biodiversity, the ban has been largely ignored in remote locations and deforestation continues. Some monks began "ordaining" trees in the country's threatened forests by draping robes around them and whispering Buddhist blessings. Once the sanctified trees became true "monks," even illegal loggers fear felling them.
Ordained trees make up temple forests that guard critical habitat for the sacred Asian elephant, a central figure in Buddhist folklore and Thai mythology. Buddhists believe that on the eve of Buddha's birth, his mother dreamed of a white elephant with a lotus. Touching one of these elephants–which aren't purely white, but pale and "illustrious"–can help Buddhists reach enlightenment. When a white elephant is found, the king decrees it royal because it is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the kingdom. Six royal white elephants are currently held at the Royal Elephant House at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.
For the forest monks, Buddhist teachings go hand in hand with the environmentalist principle of "deep ecology." Both unite ecology and spirituality. Both stress interrelatedness and oneness. Both encourage a reverence for all life. Given these similarities and the religious and historical significance of the elephant, monks' calls for forest conservation aren't entirely surprising. And in a country that is 95 percent Buddhist, their power of persuasion shouldn't be surprising either.
—Elizabeth Quill


Related Links

Elephant Dung Paper
That's right. Paper made out of elephant poop. Where did the idea come from? How does it work? You can find out here, with lots of pictures. After visiting this site, you can impress your friends with a number of random, but interesting, dung facts.
Elephant Nature Park
Sangduen "Lek" Chailert's Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand is a haven for 20 elephants, whose biographies can be read here.
Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE)
Caring for elephants is the driving force behind all of FAE founder Soraida Salwala's projects, including the Elephant Hospital.
WWF Thailand and Elephant Conservation
Follow the highs and lows of the reintroduction process through the story of an elephant named Pang Durian.
Thai Elephant Orchestra

Listen to Thai elephants making music in the jungle, and read an amusing anecdote in an article by cofounder Dave Soldier about trying to get elephants to come in on cue.
National Elephant Institute (NEI)
NEI's mission is to preserve knowledge about elephants and to pass it on to a new generation of mahouts. Visitors to NEI can get their own insights into the elephant-mahout relationship by signing up for a day or two of training.
PBS's Nature: The Urban Elephant
An elephant in the road may surprise you, but it's not surprising on the streets of Bangkok. Watch a video clip to find out how an elephant reacts to city life and how city dwellers interact with the elephants.
Thailand Tourism Authority 
You'll find information on just about anything you'd like to do in Thailand, including the Surin Elephant Round-up held every November.



Baker, Iljas, and Masakazu Kashio, editors. Giants on Our Hands: Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Domesticated Asian Elephant. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 2003. Available online at www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/005/ad031e/

Chadwick, Douglas H. The Fate of the Elephant. Sierra Club, 1992.

Fahn, James David. A Land on Fire: The Environmental Consequences of the Southeast Asian Boom. Westview, 2003.

Hart, Benjamin L., and Lynette A. Hart. "Fly Switching by Asian Elephants: Tool Use to Control Parasites." Animal Behaviour (July 1994), 35-45.

Hirsch, Philip, editor. Seeing Forests for Trees: Environment and Environmentalism in Thailand. Silkworm Books, 1997.

Jepson, Paul, and Susan Canney. The State of Wild Asian Elephant Conservation in 2003. Available online at www.elephantfamily.org/cms/iopen24/pub/ele/stateofelephantconservation

Lair, Richard C. Gone Astray: The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 1997.

Leimgruber, Peter, and others. "Fragmentation of Asia's Remaining Wildlands: Implications for Asian Elephant Conservation."

Animal Conservation (vol. 6, 2003), 347-59. Available online at

Scigliano, Eric. Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans. Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Srikosamatara, Sompoad, and Warren Y. Brockelman. "Conservation of Protected Areas in Thailand: A Diversity of Problems, a Diversity of Solutions." In Making Parks Work: Strategies for Preserving Tropical Nature, eds. Terborgh, John, and others. Island Press, 2002.

Stiles, Daniel N. "Ivory Carving in Thailand." Asianart.com. Available online at www.asianart.com/articles/thai-ivory.

Sukumar, Raman. Living Elephants: Evolutionary Ecology, Behavior and Conservation.  Oxford University Press, 2003.

Tourism Authority of Thailand. "A New Chapter for the Thai Elephant and Its Mahout: The Search for Solutions." Available online at www.tatnews.org/common/print.asp?id=1816.


NGS Resources

Macdonald, Phil and Carl Parkes. The National Geographic Traveler: Thailand. National Geographic Books, 2001.
Grove, Noel. "The Many Faces of Thailand." National Geographic (February 1996), 82-105.
Chadwick, Douglas H. "Elephants—Out of Time, Out of Space." National Geographic (May 1991), 2-49.
Payne, Katharine. "Elephant Talk." National Geographic (August 1989), 264-77.
Schultheis, Rob. "Bangkok." National Geographic Traveler (March/April 1989), 42-60.
McDowell, Bart. "Thailand: Luck of a Land in the Middle." National Geographic (October 1982).
Graves, William. "Bangkok, City of Angels." National Geographic (July 1973), 96-129.

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