Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Animals in Lao Part II: Working Elephants

Before coming to Luang Prabang, Greg and I spent 4 days in a small Lao village called Hongsa, which is known for its many elephants, most of which are still doing logging work in the forests. We arranged a trip to the forest to actually see them working:


The idea of a big elephant using its strong trunk to help the men move logs sounds kind of neat, but we learned that the reality is very different – it is a back breaking, dangerous, and frightening job. The elephants are chained to very heavy logs which they pull through the jungle. When they go down hills the logs start sliding and the elephants have to outrun them. Because they’re pulling these logs down narrow trails, they get caught on trees sometimes and the elephant, which is attached to them by the chains, gets yanked to a halt. The elephants roar when this happens. Click here to see a video of this. (Warning: some of these vids may be disturbing to young animal loving viewers)

The elephant keepers control the elephants through commands and their ears. They can pull on an elephants ear and get a lot of leverage. Other tools they use include a metal pick and a machete. When the elephant REALLY doesn’t want to do something, the machete is placed behind their ear (probably because it is a sensitive spot) and they put pressure on it, to get the animal to move forward. The metal picks are used in a similar manner, but on any part of the body. Click here for a video of the keepers manipulating an elephant.

We watched 2 elephants taking logs down from the forest; one was 25 years old and the other was 35. They’ve been doing this their whole lives.

This logging also affects the environment. The jungles around Hongsa are slowly getting deforested. The process of getting the logs from the forest to the road wreaks havoc on the vegetation that’s left over after the trees are chopped down. Ironically, the type of trees they’re logging (Paduak) bleed a bright red sap when cut:

It’s a tough situation because the guys doing the logging are just trying to make a living for themselves. When Thailand put a halt to logging in National forests and protected areas there was a huge problem with all the unemployed elephants and their keepers, but luckily along came Elephant eco-tourism. I hope someday this will happen for these working elephants in Laos.

More Videos:
Pulling the logs
Rolling logs downhill

What you can do if you don’t like what you see:

  1. Don’t buy exotic woods such as Paduak or Teak!!!
  2. Whenever you purchase wood, find out where it comes from first.
  3. If you visit SE Asia, go for an elephant ride. This accomplishes 2 things; 1) if its in an area with working elephants, one or more will get a day off from hard labor, 2) you will be supporting an alternative source of income for elephant keepers.
  4. Donate money to elephant or wildlife conservation groups such as WWF.

After this experience, Greg and I are lifetime participants in all of the above!

P.S. I promise our next post will be more uplifting 🙂


March 18, 2007 - Posted by | Laos, Pets, SE Asia, Travel, Wildlife


  1. poor elephants! compared to their lives, my life is now extra slothy. :-O

    Comment by eviltom | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. This is just horrible to hear, but I appreciate you posting it because more people need to know about this abuse of the elephant’s rights. I’m donating to the WWF, as I’ve done many times in the past. Thanks, Francie & Greg!


    PS: your video links are ftp:, which is prompting for a password. You can change them to http: and they seem to work fine.

    Comment by jhenshaw | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  3. Just watched the videos. I’m never buying ANY wood from SE Asia, and I hope these beauties break free and escape back home to the wilds (wishful thinking, I know). How dare these little men treat such a beast like this.

    Comment by jhenshaw | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  4. That is sooo sad. Poor guys! Next time I am wood shopping I will make sure it’s elephant friendly and Moose, Luna and I will definitely go for an elephant ride when we go visit.

    Comment by Paola | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  5. I fixed the video links. Thanks Jeff!

    Comment by francie | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  6. We also found out that the workers get paid about $20 for each log by the timber company. I heard that they make about $400 a month which is a large sum of money in LAO. I believe a ‘middle class’ income is about $1200 a year. There were also a few other villages where we couldn’t observe the elephants working because the people hadn’t been paid in a couple of weeks and were on strike.

    Comment by Greg Martinez | March 19, 2007 | Reply

  7. This is better than the Discovery Channel.

    Comment by Roxana | March 20, 2007 | Reply

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