Mahouts (elephant owners) were once revered in Laos. Employed by Lao royalty and living inside the royal compounds, the art of being a mahout was given a high social status. However the end of the monarchy also saw the end of the mahout profession being a highly sought-after industry to enter.
The life of a mahout in Laos has changed with the times. These days mahouts are in demand working in logging, an isolating profession that forces mahouts to live in very remote regions of the country. Mahouts spend their time working extremely hard in logging, taking incredible risks for their elephant and themselves. Pushed to extremes, both man and elephants risk their lives daily.
With the creation of the annual Elephant Festival in 2007, by founders of the Elephant Conservation Center, mahouts have become stars, attracting thousands to the Sayaboury Province every year. But this is only for a few days of the year. Many mahouts express their wishes to leave the logging industry and start working in ecotourism; an interesting, easier and more respected profession than logging.
Transitioning into the tourism sector is a much safer option, even if the solution is far from perfect. By working in this field, mahouts can share their outstanding knowledge of the tropical forest and elephant behaviour. With adequate training in English language, tourism guiding and advanced elephant care, mahouts can successfully make a living away from logging camps. Sharing their knowledge is the most rewarding aspect of a job in tourism.
With their status restored and skills learnt, Lao mahouts can make a safer and wealthier living than they do in the logging industry. Tourism can also be beneficial to breeding as elephants are much less tired and can mate more easily.