With many sons of Mahouts receiving better education than that of their fathers and the forest cover in Laos steadily decreasing, the challenging and demanding Mahout craft is attracting less and less youngsters. It is therefore important to provide a new generation of Mahouts with the necessary skills to create alternative forms of income-generating activities to that of logging.
Being a Mahout/Tourist Guide is seen as a significant alternative to keeping this profession alive and therefore ensuring a happy future for the domesticated elephants of Laos. While being a mahout working for logging companies deep in the forest is no longer attractive to young mahouts, it is clear that tourism can offer greater opportunities if they are able to converse with their clients and share their extensive knowledge of both the elephant and the forest.
Ownership of an elephant is a family affair, there being an average of 3.6 owners for each elephant. Families in the Sayaboury region typically contain around six people, so there are thousands of people relying directly on the income generated by elephants in this region of Laos. Traditions in Laos are passed onto new generations orally. It is therefore important to create a centre where these traditions can be collected, recorded, stored and transmitted to new generations of mahouts to prevent them from disappearing with the oldest Mahouts.
The establishment of the “Mahout School” enables centuries of old traditions to be saved and shared with future generations, and allow young Mahouts to benefit from the knowledge of the more experienced members of the community. English lessons provide Mahouts with the ability to converse directly with their clients.The idea of a Mahout School comes directly from the Mahout community itself. Mahouts have requested assistance to find new ways to earn a living with their elephants, fully aware of the risk of extinction threatening their elephants and their craft.
As stated previously, providing young Mahouts with the necessary tools to work within the tourism industry would help gather enthusiastic young Mahouts at the school, who will eventually be hired by the tourism industry when their training is over.
Today Mahouts have little self-esteem. They are considered as mere elephant drivers when, in fact, they possess an amazing wealth of knowledge relating to the forest and its inhabitants! Without the language barrier, Mahouts could become tour guides themselves and increase their revenue substantially. This would in turn help keep their families in vibrant rural communities.