By Christopher Goering, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017
Throughout my journey on Semester At Sea thus far, my experience at Green Hill Valley elephant conservation center was where I interacted and learned the most about sustainability and especially sustainable tourism.
Green Hill Valley was started by a man and his uncle and will remain a family run camp throughout time. They had a passion for elephants, an opportunity after logging was banned, knowledge and prior experience, and a dream to create a better life for abused elephants. The elephants they house and help were bought from logging companies or are leased from the government. Previously, the logging industry was abusing elephants for the use as lumber haulers.
The average body weight of an elephant is 3-4 tons and can safely transport 200 tons of lumber. The government’s law said that they could carry up to 800 tons and then loggers would push them beyond those limits. They would carry loads there bodies weren’t supposed to support all day when an elephant needs to eat 250kg of food which usually takes 18 hours and they should sleep for 2-3 hours a day. This lead to severe physical deterioration, most elephants should live into 70’s but can live into 80’s but in logging industry died in 40’s and 50’s.
In addition our guide believed the elephants showed signs of mental deterioration such as anxiety and depression in their daily routines and habits. In addition to poor treatment of elephants the logging industry caused severe deforestation. Between 2000-2011
Myanmar saw the loss of 20% of its prime forests. Fortunately the government banned logging because of these injustices, but now the concern was what to do with elephants that couldn’t be reintroduced to nature. With this opportunity, Green Hill Valley set up the conservation park to set up elephant care programs to nurse the elephants back to health as well as reintroduce them to more natural behaviors. In addition to helping elephants, they engage in social sustainability by emphasizing education about elephants and conservation. In addition to educating guests and travelers, they alsohost educational opportunities for local villages.
Some examples of environmental sustainability are they obtain water from a natural aquifer, use solar power to generate electricity, and recycle dung to make paper and crafts. Have a garden with, chickens, goats, and geese to supply food for some of the workers. Use Bamboo stock to feed elephants, most of which would go to waste. Supply hydroelectric power for communities down stream and use of sustainable building materials. Reforestation is one of their guiding principles and they obtain this with their forest recovery program. Each visitor is invited to plant one regional tree from GHV’s nursery. The idea is not only to encourage forest recovery, but also to educate the local community about the importance of reforestation and the risks posed by haphazard deforestation. The conservation camp honestly puts elephants in the forefront of their business model and profit margins second. The purpose is not gaining tons of money but to give elephants a better life. All of the money used to run the program is donation based out tourism. GHV actually has to turn away travelers and control how many people come to give everyone an authentic experience.