In 2006, ElefantAsia's vision to create an annual festival dedicated entirely to the Asian elephant was first realised. The Elephant Festival being designed to draw the public's attention to the condition of the endangered elephant, whilst acknowledging and celebrating the ancestral tradition of elephant domestication and the way of life chosen by the mahout.
Set in Sayaboury province, the heartland of the captive elephant, the three-day event showcases the unique lifestyle of the mahout, as well as giving everyone the opportunity to discover or perhaps in some cases rediscover the animal emblem of Laos. Every year the festival hosts lavish elephant processions, exhibitions and demonstrations of elephants at work. For many, the most spectacular event is the traditional baci ceremony, which is centred on ancient cultural practices and knowledge that has been passed from father to son for generations.
National and international media coverage received each year by the elephant festivals has increased public awareness to the desperate situation facing the Asian elephant in Laos. The festival has made substantial contribution to ElefantAsia's educational campaigns for the local and global community, whilst promoting the organisation's ethos to provide alternative socio-economic opportunities for elephants currently exploited in the logging industry. The cultural and economic significance of the festival has made it possible for ElefantAsia to publicise the need for increased species conservation on a national and international scale.
The first Elephant Festival was held in Hongsa district, Sayaboury province attracting more than 10,000 people in celebration of endangered Asian elephant. Alternating between the districts of Sayaboury, Paklay and Hongsa, the festival over the years has gained momentum, the event drawing in over 150,000 people in 2012. Evidence no doubt, of the resurgence in awareness and support for this incredible Lao culture that connects man and elephant.
Today, elephants and mahouts alike continue to gather for the annual event, however in 2013 ElefantAsia took a step back from festival organisation, allowing the Provincial government of Sayaboury opportunity to build on past successes and make the event their own.
As a prerequisite to long-term elephant conservation in the country, ElefantAsia is making tentative plans to replicate this event in Myanmar. The team has already made several exploratory missions to Myanmar to scout for suitable locations and promote the project amongst Myanmar's most influential. The event would be on a much larger scale than of that undertaken in Laos and create awareness to the plight of the Asian elephant across Myanmar. We are currently working with Myanmar counterparts to obtain government approval and find appropriate corporate sponsorship to move the project forward.