It Starts From Generation T
In the run-up to the launch of Thailand Tatler’s inaugural Generation T publication—our list of 50 young talents, entrepreneurs, creatives and big thinkers shaping the future of the country—we gave our listees a choice of four charitable causes from which to pick a recipient for funds we planned to raise at the publication’s glittering launch party. The clear winner, with over two thirds of the vote, was the Bring the Elephant Home Foundation. The objective of this foundation—to decrease conflict between humans and elephants—was seen as a noble endeavor with good sustainable ideals.
So we contacted Antoinette van de Water, who established Bring the Elephant Home in 2004, to tell her of our desire to help and she suggested contributing to the foundation’s ongoing conservation project in Chantaburi province being run in cooperation with the Phuluang Wildlife Research Station. The project involves bees and wild elephants in a way that helps local villagers and pachyderms to live more harmoniously together.
Meanwhile, we had been talking to Air France about the possibility of them joining Generation T as a sponsor. It was their regional public relations and marketing co-coordinator, Sarah Chue, who suggested a donation of two Bangkok-Paris round-trip business class tickets to be auctioned off at the Generation T launch party as a prize, with the money raised going to our charity of choice.
So that’s just what we did.
Connecting Patrons To Cause
The Bring the Elephant Home crew joined us at the event, along with the guys from Air France Bangkok, and a silent auction was held for the air tickets. The winning bidders were Krittipohn or Gig Sriyabhandha and Greg White, who secured their prize for 101,000 baht.
Gig and Greg are good sports and were happy to accept our invitation to meet Antoinette in person at the foundation’s bee-keeping project near Kaeng Hang Meow in Chantaburi, about 250km southeast of Bangkok. When we arrived, Antoinette, the team leader of the elephant and bees initiative, Rachaya Jirachai, and a few other colleagues met us to explain the programme in detail.
But What About Bees And Elephants?
The problem: wild elephants, it seems, do not particularly like being kept herded in reservations. This is mostly due to the availability of food and water and the fact that the elephants have worked out that the fodder inside the reservations is not as tasty and plentiful as that outside. Local farmers are obviously not keen to have herds of wild elephants foraging around their homes and farms and therefore do their best to keep the pachyderms out.
Since elephants are very smart and not easily dissuaded, farmers and villagers have had to resort to defensive mechanisms such as crude electric fences and man-made ditches. This does not make the elephants happy—they are not amused by being electrocuted and occasionally the old, young or infirm fall into the ditches and struggle to get out. You can’t blame the farmers and you can’t blame the elephants, but something has to be done.
This is where Generation T , Bring the Elephant Home, Phuluang Wildlife, Greg and Gig, Air France and a young villager named Kung come in for a solution called “Bee the Change”.
Elephants, probably much like most other creatures, don’t like being stung by bees. They have very sensitive skin and very good memories. Putting the two together, some very clever scientists in Kenya came up with the idea of surrounding farm land with beehives populated by honey bees, which they worked out are best for this task. Lo and behold, elephants learned not to disturb the bees for fear of being stung and stayed clear of the protected properties.
So it was at the house of Kung, surrounded by beehives strategically placed 5-10 metres apart, that Greg and Gig presented their donation. Jirachai explained that a lot of training went into getting started as a bee-keeper but once the hives were up and running and the queen bees were in place, not only was it possible to keep the elephants at bay but the money collected from farming and selling honey was also extra income for the families involved. Moreover, if nearby villagers want to join the project then a starter kit of bees could be sold to bring in even more useful revenue to the community.
A video shot at night of the elephants interacting with the beehives is fascinating. Naturally curious, they come in for quite a shock when they try to enter a property and wake the sleeping bees. Still in its early stages, the project is already showing great promise and Kung for one is very happy not to have a herd of young elephants rummaging around in her garden most nights.
There are around 100 wild elephants living outside reserve areas in Chantaburi. As the day was coming to an end, the village headman appeared to inform us that a herd would be crossing the road nearby. So we moved to a viewing area (protected by a moat) and waited along with 30 or so local tourists, cameras-ready. The elephants took their time but just as the sun was setting they appeared in full view a few hundred metres away. It was a herd of about 50 or so, content and magnificent, and hopefully learning to interact with humans better so that both may eventually be able to manage a mutually respectful co-existence.
Our Generation T cause, the Bring the Elephant Home Foundation and the Bee the Change project seem worthy recipients of our attention and Greg and Gig agreed that they were very pleased to see first-hand where their donation had gone. No doubt something to celebrate as they sip champagne en-route to Paris with Air France sometime soon.