Conservation center now home to 100 elephants


Beginning as a tiny clinic with two veterinarians a quarter century ago, Thailand’s Elephant Conservation Center has grown into an 800-acre reserve staffed with 20 vets and a research center for 100 elephants and medical teams that treat more in the wild.

“We started from a small clinic with a leaky roof and a few medical boxes 27 years ago. With every help call, we set off never quite knowing what we would find and whether we could make a satisfactory treatment. It is exciting, scaring and distressing,” said Dr. Taweepoke Angkawanish, who was one of those first veterinarians and now runs the center.

The center is located in Lampang province in northern Thailand, a hilly region that still has many forests and is home to many ethnic and tribal communities.

The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol and once adorned the Kingdom’s flag when it was known as Siam. Over a century ago, 100,000-plus pachyderms roamed the Kingdom. However, as agriculture, towns and cities expanded, forests shrank depriving the elephants of their natural habitat. Consequently, their numbers in the wild have fallen to under 10,000.

Taweepoke and his team are determined to do what they can to research and treat the elephants in the wild and those in their care.

“It is team work. Treating an elephant is never an easy job. For human beings or pets, we can use medical equipment. But it seldom works on a plodding pachyderm,” said Warangkhana Langkaphin, one of the Center’s veterinarians.

“Each failed rescue effort is our precious lesson. There is no elephant veterinary manual. It is all about passion and experience,” she said.

Taweepoke noted that Thai universities does not yet have a course in elephant studies or medical treatment. There are more courses on small pets like cats and dogs.

“You never know what is around the corner in the remote jungle, especially dealing with a giant pachyderm. Sometimes you have to hide in a tree to keep yourself from its attack, and sometimes you have to stay there for a week just to treat the badly wounded until it can walk. I love the moment when I successfully save an elephant’s life, it is wonderful,” he said.

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