Elephants at Mandalao in Luang Prabang, Laos
Just over a year ago, three American chaps decided that Luang Prabang had enough camps offering elephant riding. They decided that something needed to be done to promote sustainable, responsible and ethical treatment of these great mammals. Now, there are 9 elephants at Mandalao (including Mr. Kit a two year old troublesome toddler) and they are allowed to live in the wild. 40% of their diet is sustained by providing fruit and sugarcane and the rest, the elephants can take freely from their surroundings.
A typical day at Mandalao would be feeding the elephants - you have to be quick to keep up because they're ever so hungry! Following that, the elephants go into the river to bathe - if they want to. If you're lucky enough for them to enter the water, you can also go in and throw buckets of water over them. Watch out because they do poo and it will splash you! If you're especially lucky, the elephants might suck up a trunk-full of water and squirt it all over you.
After feeding and bath-time, the elephants go on a walk through the jungle. The group (maximum 8 people) follows alongside and you're free to take photos. If the elephants stop, you can approach for hugs. It's a truly fantastic experience and the mahouts don't carry whips or hammers to control the elephants. Instead, they've trained them to respond to positive reinforcement and rewards. Just like children! A really incredible programme. Here are my favourite pictures from the day I spent at Mandalao.