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Projects in Laos PDR

A Garden for the Mega Forest Gardeners: The Suan Xang Project

Chris Rico

Vivre Avec Les Elephants:  Elephants in Laos

Asian Elephant Support is proud to add The Suan Xang Project (translating to the elephant garden) as the newest addition to our projects taking place in Laos.  Vivre Avec Les Elephants, a French and Laos based organization, is creating an edible garden for elephants within the Hongsa District, located in the province of Sayaboury. This innovative project is establishing a place that provides for the long term welfare of elephants within the community in an effort to help perpetuate and ensure not only lasting bonds, but the support of elephants within the local villages during the tourist off season.  Currently the garden project is in its beginning phase, but upon completion it will provide free access to vegetation for every elephant located within the surrounding communities.

The first mahout and elephant to visit the garden

The first mahout and elephant to visit the garden

During the tourist season elephants are provided with care and food by their employer, but during the off season Suan Xang is working towards filling the gap left behind to keep elephants in the district. Hongsa is home to roughly 65 elephants that will aid in the upkeep of Suan Xang just by entering the garden. Elephants are a keystone species and known as the “natural gardeners” of the forest. They enhance and conserve plant biodiversity within their biome by knocking down taller plants, allowing sunlight to filter down through the canopy, while their dung acts as a great seed disperser and fertilizer.  Besides the use of edible plants, Suan Xang is also creating a herbarium that will be populated with medicinal plants known by both elephants and mahouts for their multiple uses to naturally alleviate ailments that affect elephants.

By working for and alongside the local community the Suan Xang Project plays a vital role in educating present and future generations about the importance of conservation through direct involvement. Future phases of this project also include a museum concentrating on elephants, allowing for the community to gain knowledge about the impact that elephants have played throughout their own culture and history.  Once open to the public, the garden’s museum will assist in the sharing of local elephant knowledge and experience through workshops and conferences.

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AES began funding the Suan Xang Project to assist in the implementation of the first phases in November of 2016. Since our first donation Vivre Avec Les Elephants has more than hit the ground running and are well on their way through the first two phases of the project. Six hectares of land were purchased in March of 2017 and the delineation of land and structural work has begun, as well as recruitment of local staff.  A water source is extremely vital in elephant and garden welfare, we are happy to announce that two different sites were found on the purchased land. The month of April brought with it the installation of a water pump, the clearing of land for structures, and 12 recruits from the local village.  Plant exploration for the herbarium has been underway and many species have been found growing naturally within the area as a food source and medicine.

Suan Xang will have two different types of grand openings, the first for the elephants and their owners which took place this past May.  The second opening will be for the local villagers and tourists alike. Plans in the future include a research station for scientists to study elephants in situ as well as the plant base within the garden. With continued support from sponsors like you we will continue to assist innovative programs and help in the completion of this project.