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Anantara’s Resident Expert – Our Director of Elephants
26 Aug 2010
Are you locked in a career that fails to fill you with enthusiasm? Perhaps you harbor philanthropic ambitions, but they seem too far fetched to achieve. Or maybe you seek exotic adventure in a far flung destination but would like to reap more than personal pleasure. For Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa’s Director of Elephants, John Roberts, it’s the paths less travelled that have led to his role at the lush jungle retreat’s on-site Elephant Camp.
On most days you’ll find John taking the babies of the elephant herd under his trust down to the river for their ritual bathing antics. Yet this playful pastime belies a list of inspirational achievements which, quite ironically, have taken him full circle to his natural roots.
“Growing up in rural Devon, as a family we were always interested in the natural world”, recalls John. “But my real passion was stolen from my brother. He’s an unwavering conservationist in Europe where it’s cold and the creatures being conserved are far from glamorous, so when the chance to travel by volunteering in national parks arose, I naturally jumped at the chance.”
Anyone who has visited Thailand will be familiar with the Kingdom’s reverence for its elephants. Once the country’s esteemed logging workforce, these three tonne beauties remain sacredly associated with royalty, and to this day take pride of place in parade festivities. Yet despite the strong bond between Thai people and their nation’s most genteel species, there are still a worrying number of elephants forced to walk the city streets to make their mahout a miserly living by begging from tourists.
Since 2003, under John’s passionate helm, Anantara Golden Triangle’s Elephant Camp has successfully rescued 32 such elephants, accompanied by their entire mahout family. Yet this is only a snapshot of John’s accomplishments.
“Aside from contributing to the welfare of domestic elephants throughout Thailand, I’m a trustee of the International Trust for Nature Conservation - a small British charity working mainly in Nepal and India which oversees and partially funds a long term tiger monitoring project in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. It’s the longest running project of its kind in the world, and it was there that I learnt the scientific principles that I now apply to the elephant projects I’m currently involved with.”
As achievements with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation become more widely known, John and his team are gradually developing their role. “We’re working on becoming a research centre in association with several Thai and foreign universities, have made a name for ourselves in several papers, and there are some potentially ground breaking studies coming up, most notably a Thai Elephant Therapy Project run by Chiang Mai University to provide elephant assistant therapists for autistic children.”
Despite these globe trotting feats, it seems that John remains restless for adventure, with just one of his many future ambitions entailing a desire to travel from northern to southern Thailand at the pace of an elephant. With one of the three tonne Asian beauties in tow he aims to document, on top of everything else, the reverence that Thai people have for the elephant.
“There are plenty of green spaces and rural places left in Thailand, we’d cover about 10 – 15km a day, avoid the big cities and the main roads, see the real Thailand together and let the real Thailand see their elephants” he concluded.
So if you find yourself in Thailand, and spot a man of a certain age (he won’t name the figure, but says it’s old enough for him to know better!), strolling down the street with a trusted pachyderm, it could well be John conquering this somewhat unusual challenge. Alternatively, to be sure of meeting Anantara Golden Triangle’s quirky Director of Elephants, as well as the resort’s cast of gentle giants, escaping to this hilltop retreat in the heart of the legendary Golden Triangle promises all the adventure you could wish for!