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Of ethnographic interest. Filmmaker Erik Dettle emailed me a couple days ago to share his short documentary, Mahout: Changing Reigns, about the Gwi mahouts of Thailand and how elephant-raising has changed over time.

Check out the video here.

A couple years ago while in the field I managed to spend some time at the Elephant Conservation Center in Xayabouri, Laos, where I learnt a lot about the traditional practice of raising elephants, and some tourist practices do more harm than good to the elephants. I highly recommend them as a place to go to if you want to learn about elephants. One of my main takeaways from the experience is that elephants’ backs are actually very weak, and they are not suited to carrying weights on their backs! You’ll notice that the mahouts usually ride elephants on their front shoulders for that reason. If you find yourself in Southeast Asia and you have the option of riding an elephant on their backs – don’t do it!

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