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Elephants as Artists

Elephants are an important part of Thai culture and the Thai way of life. They are a traditional symbol of royal power, an essential feature of Buddhist art and architecture, an a spiritual mentor for people of all walks of life. In the early part of this century, elephants roamed freely and in multitude throughout Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Prior to the 18th century they were the main machine of Southeast Asian war, a Thai king of the late 17th century having had 20,000 war elephants trained for battle. Elephants in Thailand have always been a symbol of both power and peace. They have always performed the most exacting physical tasks. And they have always been well loved.

The number of elephants in Thailand today is limited to about 2,000. Most of these are at various elephant camps around the country where they learn to work in the forests and mountains and to entertain the hundreds of thousands of people who go to see them each year, and where they live, play and reproduce in a setting that is as close to the wild as possible.

Elephants have plied in Thailand's Jungles since the days of old Siam. The elephant is acknowledged as having many wide attributes, and perhaps the most obvious is showmanship. Talent for a stately presence, for delicate foot movement and agility, for intelligence on the field of sport, and at the same time a particular gentleness that makes the elephant not only a highly respected creature of the land but also one that is appreciated and loved.

Trained elephants can entertain people in many ways elephant racing, tug-of-war, football match, walking over the persons with their bellies on the ground, carrying the lady, surfboard, sitting on the stool, etc.

Thai elephants can be found in the tourism sector, logging industry, wandering in national parks or local circus. Of these only about 20 elephants can paint. Elephants producing artwork could be a solution to raising funds to preserve Thai elephants. Mrs. Anchalee Kalmapijit a director of the Mae Sae Elephant Camp came to realize the admiration the Japanese have for elephant art when she saw the popularity of the travelling elephant art exhibition while she was visiting Japan. She asked herself how could she educate and create awareness among Thai people to increase their appreciation of this rare talent found in a selected few of the country's beloved elephants.

The Mae Sa Elephant Camp and the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel have joined together to organize "The World's Best Elephant Art Exhibition" at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. The exhibition continues until March 2004. Each day around 5 pm two elephants demonstrate their skills in painting Chinese water color technique. You may be meet Wanpen and Kongkam painting motifs such as flowers, trees, golden bamboo, grape and plum blossoms. Other artists are named Kamsan, Lankam, Duanpen, Panpetch and Songpan. (Four Shows daily : 5, 6, 7 and 8 pm).

Everyday there are articles describing the problems mahouts face in keeping their elephants well and healthy in Thailand. More and more often a common question commonly asked among Thai people who are concerned about preserving Thai Elephants is about ways in which the public can take an active role. After you have visited the exhibition, urge your neighbors, friends, and school mates to visit the exhibition to generate greater interest in how to save Thai Elephants.

Become a member of the Elephant Art Club

If you are concerned about the plight of elephants in Thailand, you can become a member of the Elephant Art Club. The objectives are:

  1. To be the coordination center for elephant artists throughout Thailand.
  2. To promote close cooperation in development of Elephant Art through painting techniques and providing certified veterinarians for elephant health care.
  3. To introduce elephants as artists to the world by arranging Art exhibitions both in Thailand and other countries in the world.
  4. To coordinate financial resources to fund better living conditions of both elephants and elephant keepers and to assist in their permanent settlements.
  5. To promote Thailand as a fascinating tourism destination.
  6. To raise funds for Thai Elephant Conservation Projects.

Contact the Membership Director of the Elephant Art Club at 119/9 Tapae Rd., Chiangmai 50100, Tel. 053 206247, 053 206248 or Fax. 053 206247, email: ele_club@hotmail.com

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