Nearly two hundred elephants are currently working on Phuket providing visitors with safari trips into the jungles and along the waterways. Almost this entire population of Asian elephants have been trucked to South Thailand from the country's northeastern region where due to a ban on logging ten years ago, the elephant lost their traditional source of support.
Working in tourism has become the primary source of revenue for many of Thailand's 2000 domesticated elephants.
Robert Greifenberg, founder of Siam Safari Nature Tours, began the elephant trekking business in 1994 when he brought 15 of the large animals to the island.
"Phuket has limited resources to care for elephants. An average adult Asian elephant weighs three to five tons, eats 250 kilos of vegetation and drinks over 200 liters of water each day," states Mr Greifenberg. "Much of the food has to be brought in from neighboring provinces."
All elephants have a personal mahout or trainer who lives and cares for their daily needs. However, often when the elephant falls ill, these mahouts do not have the funds to pay for veterinary care or medicine.
In late 1997, the Dusit Laguna Resort Hotel joined with Siam Safari Nature Tours to form Elephant Help, a non profit society which raises funds for medical supplies and other support for the large animals.
Plans include to set up an elephant sanctuary in the region to care for old, blind, sick or injured elephants which will include a burial ground.
Initial fundraising efforts netted 120,000 Baht and were used by three veterinarians from the Phuket Livestock Office visited 27 of the island's elephant trekking camps and examined 147 elephants for disease and ailments.
They found 27 sick elephants. Fourteen had dermititis, seven suffered from respiratory disorders, four had eye infections, five suffered from dehydration will others had abscesses, allergies, urinary tract infections and kidney stones.
Mark Van Ogtrop, General Manager of the Dusit Laguna Resort Hotel, is an enthusiastic supporter of the elephant population on Phuket.
"The elephant has an amazing impact on our guests. No animal better represents Thailand in the country's number one industry, tourism, than the elephant. We should do everything possible to support and care for Thailand's national animal," states Mr. Van Ogtrop.
Most of Phuket's international resorts have a donation box for the Elephant Help project. A visitor to Phuket can make an important contribution to the well being of the elephants with a monetary gift.