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Foundation News

2011 EMA Conference

Chris Rico

AES sponsors Richard Lair as keynote speaker at the 2011 Elephant Managers Association Conference (Rochester, NY)

Asian Elephant Support was pleased to be able to sponsor Richard Lair's attendance as keynote speaker at the 2011 Elephant Managers Association (EMA) Conference in Rochester, NY, in October. Linda, Sharon and April were in attendance at the conference and Gretchen was able to visit with him in Seattle after the conference.

Richard Lair is a world famous expert and conservationist who has had an exciting and diverse career working with and writing about elephants in Thailand. He is a native Californian and has lived and worked with Asian elephants for 34 years, 31 of which were in Thailand. He moved to Thailand in 1980 and volunteered with the Association for the Conservation of Wildlife, the country’s first conservation organization.

In 1988 he wrote the first scientific paper on the numbers and status of Thai domesticated elephants, pointing out the new threats facing a greatly diminished population. In 1997 he wrote “Gone Astray: The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity” for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and this publication remains the definitive text on domesticated elephant in Southeast Asia. In 2005 he edited and coauthored an “Elephant Care Manual for Mahouts and Camp Managers.” His next project will be a review of Thai law on both wild and domesticated elephants, including possible directions for the future.

For twelve years he worked at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) as an advisor. In 1993 he founded, trained and managed the Second Unit elephants for a Walt Disney film, “Operation Dumbo Drop.” He also worked on Oliver Stone's "Alexander" as safety and animal welfare officer. He was the first person to train elephants paint in Thailand and is cofounder and co-director of the one and only, world renowned, Thai Elephant Orchestra. The Orchestra has just released its third and final CD entitled "Water Music."

Richard's travel and speaking engagements kept him very busy on this trip, and we are grateful to Richard for sharing his knowledge and experience with so many other elephant professionals.

Justin Smith, Linda Reifschneider, Richard Lair and Jenni Bowman with elephants Jewell and Zina at the Little Rock Zoo

Justin Smith, Linda Reifschneider, Richard Lair and Jenni Bowman with elephants Jewell and Zina at the Little Rock Zoo

After spending a couple of days with friends in San Francisco recuperating from the long flight from Lampang, Thailand, Richard's first stop was Little Rock, Arkansas and it started out a little ‘rocky'. Due to bad weather in Houston, Texas, his flight to Little Rock on Thursday night was cancelled. The next flight out was not leaving until 8:00am Friday morning. Unfortunately, he was supposed to speak at the Little Rock Zoo at 7:30am Friday morning at a breakfast presentation for Zoo donors and volunteers. However, in the end everything worked out. April filled in for Richard at the breakfast and Richard arrived safely later that morning. We spent about an hour and a half at the Zoo's elephant barn talking with the staff and meeting the two resident elephants, Zina and Jewell. Then it was off to lunch with a couple of the professors from the University of Arkansas Little Rock before his speech at the University. His speech was written for an audience of elephant professionals, so he modified it slightly for the students. He talked a little about his background and the elephants in Thailand, but focused on how he combined his love of art with his love of science. His point for the students was to not limit themselves and to find something they are truly passionate about.

Richard Lair presents at University of Arkansas, Little Rock

Richard Lair presents at University of Arkansas, Little Rock

Later we met Linda, our foundation President, back at the Zoo and took a tour of the rest of the zoo. Then it was off to the Riddle's Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary (www.elephantsancutary.org) to visit with Scott and Heidi Riddle. After a good visit with the Riddles, Richard and Linda flew to Orlando for a day's visit to Ringling's Center for Elephant Conservation, whose motto is: "Endangered Species? Not if We Can Help It." It was a privilege to meet with both old and new friends at the CEC and we greatly appreciate everything they have done for Asian elephant conservation and research over the years.

Richard presenting at EMA

Richard presenting at EMA

Next, it was off to Rochester, New York. The staff and volunteers at the Seneca Park Zoo did a fabulous job hosting the 32nd Elephant Managers Association conference. There were approximately 110 participants from around the world and everyone enjoyed Richard's keynote speech. It was fascinating to hear about his journey through life and how he ended up working with the elephants of Thailand for 31 years.

Richard then traveled to the west coast to present at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, and to catch up with some old friends. The Woodland Park Zoo were gracious hosts and set up a very nice event, complete with an elegant reception with appetizers and beverages. Richard gave an engaging presentation about his experiences with elephants, and focused primarily on the situation of elephants in Thailand, where he has been living for over 30 years. Gretchen and her husband had worked for Richard in Thailand for 6 months and hadn't seen him for 2 years, so they were excited to meet up with him at the event. Richard then went on to visit other friends and family in Montana and California before returning to Thailand.