Photo: Big skies.

Introduction

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Located 54 km south of Pakse, the village of Ban Khiet Ngong lies in the buffer zone of the Xe Pian National Protected Area.



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Spanning 2,400 square kilometres, the conservation area boasts lowland forest and extensive wetlands rich with biodiversity, including 320 species of birds. The landscape is unparalleled in Laos, and the village is a good example of creating environmentally sensitive tourist infrastructure that brings in much-needed income to a remote rural village.

Get out on the water. Photo taken in or around Ban Khiet Ngong, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Get out on the water. Photo: Cindy Fan

Elephants are the main draw to Ban Khiet Ngong; the village has 13 domesticated elephants and the community manages its own tourism activities, some of which do include the elephants. Prolonged media coverage continues to raise awareness around the dark side of elephant tourism, particularly regarding the process of breaking them in, but also the practise of riding them and overworking them in general.

Public reaction has been swift to condemn all elephant tourism and vilify the mahouts that handle the animals. The situation is complex, as tourism provides income that helps already domesticated elephants avoid other “occupations” such as logging. That said, in taking part in elephant-related activities like riding, you are fuelling demand for camps and “sanctuaries” which undertake these activities. Please do your research.

Enjoy the views from Phou Asa. Photo taken in or around Ban Khiet Ngong, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Enjoy the views from Phou Asa. Photo: Cindy Fan

The country’s current stock of domesticated elephants are caught in a Catch-22. A mahout considers his elephant part of the family—but the elephant is an expensive child and must work to pay for itself. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they are at risk of being leased or sold into logging, punishing work that ironically has it destroying its own habitat. As a better alternative, tourism generates income for the family and helps keep the elephant in the village—never the most ideal situation but far better than having it sold into hard labour or a cruel tourist ... Travelfish members only (Around 600 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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