This project deals with the socio-cultural relationship of elephants in the present context. In the past Elephants were acquired as tool of labour and a symbol of austerity. In present context; new logging ban and technological advances, forced elephants out of jobs and their mahouts had no income. Much like a stallion, an elephant must first be broken, via starvation to establish a hierarchy. Traditionally, a single mahout and an elephant is paired for life. However, with the waning popularity of mahout as a job and a way of life, this poses a serious health risk to the elephants, every time a new mahout is introduced.
Together with the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC), a solution of ‘Social Interaction’ is proposed. Instead of relying on a mahout for an elephant, grouping both sides in certain proportion such as 3 mahouts with 5 elephants is proposed. When a mahout leaves his/her job, there are other mahouts to help the new comer to get familiar with elephants without torturing them. Pairing elephants poses a different challenge. Ensuring compatibility of all the elephants within a group is crucial as they could fatally injure one another in captivity.
The masterplan includes four large interactive areas for introducing and managing elephants’ groupings. Observation areas are designed such that the mahouts could observe elephant’s behaviour without disturbing them. There are additional observation areas provided for visitors at a further distance. The main design essence is to improve captivity conditions to be better integrated with nature, taking inspiration from trees network in deep forest. Due to budget constraint and environmental friendly initiatives, precast columns (rc piles) are introduced in series of free standing columns without additional finish. These concrete poles are topped with planter boxes and laid as protection to new trees inserted in groups. Shading structures are provided as elephants can not endure harsh sunlight throughout the day.
Ultimately this project hopes to improve living quality of elephants, by investigating the socio-cultural changes and reinterpreting the status quo, to ensure that elephants will continue to be a part Thai culture.