In Thailand, elephants suffer from the tourism industry more than any place else in the world. Henrik Enevoldsen from Denmark is trying to create a safe haven for Thailand’s mistreated elephants, and hopes to get support from fellow Scandinavians to rescue the burdened creatures.
Henrik Enevoldsen was only around three or fours years old when he first encountered the large animal that would one day become a significant part of his life. Cirkus Benneweis, one of Denmark’s premier circuses, camped right across from Henrik’s parents’ house in Esbjerg, southern Denmark, and that is when Henrik for the first time saw a real elephant.
“I became very fascinated by this large elephant that looked very different from the other animals we would usually see in Denmark. I would walk back and forth between my parents’ house and the circus to see the elephants by the circus,” said Henrik.
The fascination has followed the now 50-year-old Henrik Enevoldsen ever since that very first encounter, and he is now planning to open up a sanctuary for elephants, abused by the logging and tourism industries, in Krabi, southern Thailand.
Supported elephants right from the start
Henrik came to Thailand the for the first time in 1988 while travelling around Asia. Two years later, in 1990, he decided upon settling down in Krabi where he started Café Europa, a place that have brought many people together over Scandinavian food.
While running Café Europa, Henrik has supported many elephant projects in Thailand, which buys elephants out of mistreatment in the logging and tourism industry and places them in sanctuaries where the elephants are given a better life, away from the abuse which they have often suffered under for many years.
Supporting these projects, Henrik met Lek Chailert. Lek has several elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, and in Cambodia and Myanmar. She has rescued over 200 elephants from abuse by loggers and the tourism industry. One day, she told Henrik that she wanted him to open up an elephant sanctuary in Krabi.
“She is my mentor, and I have a deep respect for her, she is like an elephant god to me. It shocked me a little bit, and I told her that I could not just open an elephant home, but she kept insisting.”
The two talked about the idea for some years, but nothing really happened, until Henrik was visiting Lek and the elephants on his birthday last year, and she gave him two elephants and asked him what he was going to do about it. And that is when Henrik’s journey to starting Krabi Elephant Sanctuary really started.
Full time focus
In April 2017, Henrik and Café Europa announced that they would be closing. It was time for Henrik to put all of his focus into his elephant project and really make a difference for the large creatures. He has since then been working full time on collecting money for starting the sanctuary.
To open the sanctuary, Henrik needs 35 million Thai Baht. He hopes to have the first 20 million before November so he can buy the piece of land he has had put on hold, and will hopefully become the foundation for a safe haven for abused elephants.
The next 15 million will go to building facilities for the elephants, which he hopes to start building around February 2018.
“Elephants that have been rescued from the tourism and logging industry can rarely simply just be let back out into the forest,” explained Henrik. “Many of them come with physical handicaps such as blindness from being shot with a slangshot, they have infected wounds after being hit repeatedly with metal hooks, many are suffering mentally after the abuse. They need help for navigating around, medicine and many other things.”
Dreams of raising the Scandinavian flags
Henrik hopes to be able to raise the money from a number of personal donations, but also from business. He is currently trying to contact Scandinavian business that have an interest in Thailand to sponsor the project.
“We see that many of the other elephant homes are sponsored by Britons, Australians and Americans, and I would love to see Scandinavian coming together to open a sanctuary as well. I have a dream of being able to raise the Scandinavian flags when we open,” said Henrik.
National animal living in cruel conditions
Although Elephants is Thailand’s national animal, Thailand is also the country which has the most mistreated and abused elephants in the world.
More than three quarters of the more than 2000 elephants in Thailand are suffering from abuse. They are tied to poles day and night, whenever they are not performing in shows or carrying around toursits on their back. They are malnourished. They are tortured.
The growing tourism in Thailand has caused a 30 percent increase of elephants held in captivity for tourism between 2010 and 2016, writes World Animal Protection in a recent report from July 2017.
World Animal Protection says there is an urgent need to educate tourists about animal cruelty. Many of the elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life.
“Before they can perform in shows or be ridden by tourist the elephants go through intense torture in order to break the elephants,” said Henrik.
Although elephants seem like big and strong creatures that can hardly be harmed by someone riding on their backs, riding is actually very harmful to elephants.
Watching happy, playful elephants
More and more tourists are fortunately also starting to support the elephant sanctuaries that are opening across Thailand, where the elephants can live a better life, away from abuse.
When Krabi Elephant Santuary opens up, Henrik hopes to give visitors a look into how elephants are in their natural habitat. The elephants will roam freely in a forest area with a lake for them to swim and play in.
Although many elephant sanctuaries allow visitors to bathe and pet the large creatures, Henrik wants to keep the human interaction on a minimal.
“Elephants are very playful animals, and I believe it can be an amazing experience for visitors to observe them from a distance to see what they are naturally like.”
Henrik explains that even though many of the elephants are very damaged after being bought out of the logging and tourism industry and arriving at a sanctuary, they quickly go back to being the happy and playful creatures that elephants naturally are.
“It is impressive how forgiving the elephants are. They never forget, but even after so many years of abuse, they can still forgive humans.”
With the new project, Henrik hopes to be part of a movement that will stop elephant abuse altogether. In collaboration with the mayor of Krabi, Henrik plans to bring young thai students to the sanctuary and educate them on animal welfare.
He also hopes that opening a sanctuary can inspire the local elephant shows and people who offer elephant riding to choose another path.
“By seeing that the sanctuary can be a great success, and create a good profit, hopefully they will realize that there is another way, and that the animals does not have to suffer,” says Henrik.
There is still a lot of work ahead for Henrik and Krabi Elephant Sanctuary, which he hopes will open up for visitors in November 2018. Henrik still needs to raise a lot of money to be able to help the mistreated elephants of Thailand, but he is willing to give his all to make it happen.
“When I get this up and running, and shows the tourism industry that this can be a success, then that is all I need from this life.”