Laos, a country traversed by the Mekong River and mountainous terrain, is affectionately known as the Kingdom of a Million Elephants. Centuries ago, the kingdom that made up much of modern-day Laos was called Lan Xang, which translates to “Land of a Million Elephants.”
These days however, the number is far from the million, with the Laos government and conservation groups estimate there are only about 800 elephants left in the country — 400 wild elephants, 400 in captivity.
Deforestation is a contributing factor to the decline in wild elephant numbers. There is approximate 40% of forest coverage in Laos today — down from 70% recorded in the 1950s. As the forests dwindle, that leads to habitat fragmentation, and the elephants are unable to follow normal migration patterns, leading to human-elephant conflict.
Yet while the Asiatic elephant may have endured as a cultural icon for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the species in crisis is now becoming a focus to protect and conserve.
One conservation group making a difference is the MandaLao Elephant Conservancy. Located 25 minutes from Luang Prabang in the village of Ban Xieng Lom, MandaLao is the first and only non-riding elephant experience in Luang Prabang.
Since opening in in November 2016, MadaLao has worked to create awareness by helping visitors connect with elephants in the most natural way possible in elephant tourism today. Tours focus on education, elephant welfare and provide trekking in a small group in the jungle with elephants, with absolutely no riding of the elephants.
MandaLao preserve and protect both domesticated elephants and those who remain in the wild through this responsible tourism, education, and sustainable relationships with the local community.
There are varying tour options available but will generally include setting out in search of the rescued elephants whom now enjoy peaceful and rest-filled lives at MandaLao. A short walk takes you up into the hills where the elephants spend a large majority of their time feeding on wild vegetation and relaxing.
After you’ve located the giants, it is time to convince them (with some extra sweet fruit) to follow you through the jungle and down to the Huay Nok stream for a drink. From there you meander through its cool waters to the banks of the Nam Khan river. Once on the banks of the river, you will be greeted by Mahouts bearing baskets of bananas and sugar cane. Giving the elephants these treats after an amazing walk through the jungle is the best way to let them know you enjoyed their company — and their appreciation will be undeniable.
Stay at the Pullman Luang Prabang in Laos for a central location to visit the MandaLao Elephant Conservancy.