Sebastien Duffillot says he was drawn first to Laos by its people but quickly became an activist for conserving the few remaining elephants in a place known as “the land of a million elephants.”
The Elephant Conservation Center houses 30 Asian elephants. They are not required to perform or give rides. They live in a protected forest and are allowed to just enjoy being elephants.
Interview with Sebastien Duffillot, the founder of Elephant Conservation Center.
The following is the pre-show interview with Sebastien Duffillot. Be sure to watch the recorded interview above.
What is the problem you solve and how do you solve it?
In Laos there are only 600 to 800 elephants left. About half of them in the wild, half of them in captivity. The center has set up projects to improve the situation of both. The wild population has been living in diminishing and fragmentating habitats. With food scarcity, human elephant conflicts rising, and wildlife corridors disappearing, numbers have been dwindling. The Elephant Conservation Center has taken up the responsibility, with the approval of the local government, to protect the national park in Sayaboury Province. This region still houses several groups of wild elephants. By contacting owners who no longer earn their living in the logging industry, we recover captive elephants. These elephants are rehabilitated in to coherent social groups as a preparation to being reintroduced in to the wild.
More about Elephant Conservation Center:
The Elephant Conservation Center, located in Sayaboury in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, acts to preserve and protect the Asian elephant, a species that is on its way to extinction. Created in 2011 by a team of experts, its program is set up around the well-being of the animal, the reproduction, vet care, and the schooling of mahouts.
For-profit/Nonprofit: for profit (tourism) and non-profit via our affiliation with France based NGO “Des Elephant et Des Hommes” (Elephants and People) for all non for profit programmes undertaken by the Center
Revenue model: The daily costs are funded by the income generated by visitors only. This ensures sustainability for the staff and the elephants under our care. For larger projects the center raises funds through partner organisations such as “Des Elephants et des Hommes”, a France based NGO.
Scale: 55 staff. 30 elephants. 530 hectares of elephant pastures/forest. 650.000$ annual Turn Over. Over 3000 visitors a year.
Sebastien Duffillot’s bio:
Sebastien Duffillot graduated from Toulouse Business School MBA programme in 1994. After spending a year and a half at the French Embassy in Bangkok as assistant to the regional advisor for scientific and technical cooperation, he settled in Laos in 1996 where he created Kinnary Advertising, a graphic design studio in the capital, Vientiane.
In 2001, he co-founded ElefantAsia, a France-based non-profit to protect the endangered Asian elephants, primarily in Laos. In 2002, he organises the Elephant Caravan, a 1300km long march with 4 elephants across Laos, from Champassak in the South up to Luang Prabang in the North. The objective of the caravan was to raise local and international awareness about the plight of the elephants in a country once known as Lan Xang, the Land of a Million Elephants.
With ElefantAsia and the National health Center of the Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry, he implemented the first nation-wide census of captive elephants. Mobile clinics travelled the country to microchip and provide vet care to all working elephants while building up a statistical database providing vital information about the condition of the country’s remaining 450 elephants. Mahouts (elephant handlers) were taught first aid Technics while provided with an ElefantAsia-FAO published Elephant Care Manual.
ElefantAsia also raised awareness through a national environmental education campaign consisting of books, posters, movies and elephant mobile libraries aimed at schoolchildren living in and around elephant populated areas.
In 2010 He teams up with Inthy Deuansawan (Inthira Group, Green Discovery) and Jean-François Reumaux (The Gibbon Experience) to create the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury. Starting with 1 elephant and 6 staff, the Center now shelters 30 elephants and employs 55 staff. It is set on the banks of the Nam Tien Lake on a 345 hectares protected forest.
In 2015, Sebastien organised a second elephant caravan from Sayaboury to Luang Prabang with 20 elephants to mark the importance of elephants as a defining component of Lao natural and cultural heritages. The caravan ended its journey in Luang Prabang as the city was celebrating its 20th anniversary as a world Heritage city.
Sebastien is now expanding the Conservation Center’s activities to include the conservation of wild elephants in the Nam Phouy National Park. The new reserve project is strongly focusing on community based tourism as a method to improve livelihoods and include local people in the conservation process.
Meanwhile the Center has development projects in Myanmar, a country where a significant number of elephants and their mahouts are now unemployed and in need of creative solutions to secure their future.
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