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Broadening Horizons (Conservation Education Trip for Mahout Kids to Khao Yai)

By Folashade Ojuola
22 January 2017 03:47:00

It’s been an eventful 3 days for Changboon Wittaya School! The students have just finished a field trip to Khao Yai National Park: a World Heritage Site, and for many of our students, a first-time visit. 

The first day began early on a Tuesday morning, with students arriving to the school at 5AM. You might think that the early hour and dark skies would make for a sleepy ride to the park, but not so! The students were too excited to sleep, and instead took turns giving lively renditions of karaoke songs the whole ride there.

Upon arrival outside the park, the group switched from buses to songthaews (local 'two bench' covered pick-ups) for the windy trek up the mountain to our campsite. 

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Upon arrival at the Visitor Center, we were greeted by two park rangers who gave everyone an introduction to the park, what activities we could expect to participate in, and the conservation efforts that would be the focal point of the trip. The students watched a video detailing the various wildlife of the park, and squealed with excitement at a few of the more unfamiliar creatures. 

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

 We were then taken to our accommodations further up the hill. We could see that there was a small brook down a short path behind the students’ housing, so they got into adventure mode right away by going down for a closer look.

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

The rest of the day was spent doing to team-building games and discussing the park’s wildlife in the context of games, led by the park rangers. 

"KhaoKhao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

After sundown, they had the chance to go on a night safari! We loaded into open-backed trucks and used high beam flashlights to look out into the park for any creatures that may be out and about under the cover of night. As an American, I was hoping for elephants or tigers (we did not see any)…but much to the students’ delight, there were ample deer about! It is interesting to think that just as elephants are a rarity to me although but a common sight in Ban Ta Klang, deer are a rarity for them although I am used to seeing them! 

The next morning, the students were taken on a bird-watching walk at sunrise. The park provided a guide and some binocular equipment for the students to share, and they got some great up-close views of varying birds (and squirrels!). Many of them were glad to just take in the sights of the forest; very different from their daily norm of rice fields and flat land.

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

After bird-watching, students had breakfast and another nature talk before being broken into groups for a 7 kilometer (4.5 mile!) hike. 

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

The hike was guided by park rangers, who stopped often to point out interesting plants, insects, or signs of wildlife. The students particularly enjoyed seeing a tall tree with bear prints on it—the park bears are known to climb it for the honey at the top! Luckily, we did not see any bears (though the students might’ve loved that).

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

I was surprised that, as older teenagers, not one of them ever complained while spending hours hiking through the woods on a hot day. They said they had never been on such a hike before! They are very grateful to the foundation for giving them the opportunity to experience something so new. 

After a long day of hiking, the evening was spent going over what they learned out on the trails, and playing more games. 

On the last morning, the students enjoyed another bird-watching session before having breakfast and settling in for the closing program. They sang songs and discussed the wildlife they had become familiar with, and wrote their favorite takeaways from the program on green hearts that they later stuck on cut-out trees.

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

They were given final opportunities to flex their conservation knowledge with a trivia game, where those who answered correctly were given Khao Yai gear like backpacks, T-shirts, and books on conservation. They were only stumped by one trick question: “What is the most dangerous predator in Thailand?”—answer, humans! 

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Khao Yai Photo Credit Sade Ojuola

Overall, the students had a great time being exposed to an environment so different from their norm. Particularly, as they return to the Elephant Village, it has been positive for them to learn about elephants in the wild and elephant conservation. Planting the seeds in their minds about elephants roaming free and unchained is a step in the right direction for kids who have seen domestication normalized their whole lives.

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John's Note: Sade is an English teacher that we sponsor, supported by The Elephant Story to teach in the school of our mahouts' home village of Ban Ta Klang, the village itself is home to about 200 elephants and the population look after thousands more around Thailand.  We hope that by teaching the future mahouts and their prospective wives foreign languages and conservation basics they will be empowered and inspired to make good decisions for the elephants they'll inherit.

This trip was organised through Freeland Foundation and partially funded by Black Ivory Coffee.  

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