Conservation, News

A mother and calf Asian elephant wade along the banks of a river. Photograph by Gavin Lautenbach.

Death of a Mahout

An Analysis of the Lack of Informed Discussion within the Conservation Movement

Recently, the conservation movement has been plagued by the celebration of the deaths of individuals with opposing viewpoints. People continually clamor and call for the death of hunters, big business owners and employees, and many who appear to provide opposition against the conservation movement. Vile comments routinely command the space under articles that was designed for beneficial and practical discussion.

An article by the Atlantic details the death of a Mahout (those that control elephants at elephant-riding parks), by the tusks and weight of a bull elephant in the jungles of Thailand. Celebrations of the man’s death dominated the comment sections of the articles that reported Chai’s end.

Here an issue dominating the conservation movement becomes apparent, the reduction of rational and beneficial discussion. While a movement requires dedicated individuals prepared to fight for its goals, the refusal to listen to the arguments of opponents creates a battleground in which ignorance and vitriol eliminate any attempt at legitimate, communal discussion. Comment sections celebrating and calling for the death of men and women, along with dozens of biased and uninformed articles produced by major conservation-supporting news sources, exemplify the shift from rational and constructive thought to brash and destructive ignorance. Chai’s death serves as a perfect case study.

A mother and calf Asian elephant wade along the banks of a river. Photograph by Gavin Lautenbach.

A mother and calf Asian elephant wade along the banks of a river. Photograph by Gavin Lautenbach.


The young man worked as a mahout not by choice but by necessity. Supporting a family, a wife and two children, proves nearly impossible for the majority of immigrants in the impoverished countries of Southeast Asia. In fact, the majority of mahouts despise their low paying and dangerous occupation (the lucky ones may earn $1,500 USD per year) but have no access to other employment as many are impoverished immigrants fleeing violent and unstable countries.

Desperate for survival, these immigrants work dangerous occupations for criminal wages, wages determined by the ‘entrepreneurs’ that run the elephant camps in which dozens of mahouts die every year. These owners understand and use the dilemma of the immigrant to bind them into a sort of slavery. The mahouts work and die and the business owners profit.

Here the ignorance becomes clear. The keyboard warriors celebrating Chai’s death did nothing but celebrate the death of a man strangled by human rights violations and the misfortune of living in a land where social mobility, economic stability and the protection of less fortunate citizens are largely nonexistent.

Chai’s fate did nothing to silence the men that subjugate their employees and abuse the elephants they enslave. No, it does not help ‘the cause’ to clamor for and celebrate death in a world already stricken with so much hate, despair and strife. Noble intentions founded and still guide the conservation movement, but this radicalized pollution is now rife within it.

By making ignorant and vile statements supporting the death of men and women, the conservation movement becomes associated with a radicalized agenda. This radicalization alienates potential supporters and drives the movement to an extreme end of the spectrum where ignorant and fruitless discussion and argumentation become the norm.

The complete failure to realize the human rights violations that led to Chai’s death is a prime example of the ignorance of the radical side. These violations concern many powerful organizations, including those that support universal movements for human rights.  A level-headed conservationist with the ability to enter rational discussion rather than blind rampage sees the potential of combining forces with the better-funded and more widely supported human rights groups. This cooperation would further the monetary and general support for environmental preservation.

Instead of isolating themselves by celebrating the death of a man that human rights activists would mourn, conservationists should recognize the plight of the man, mourn his death, then identify and pursue solutions beneficial to the intentions of both organizations. This collaboration would only strengthen conservation efforts. Education and understanding will propel the environmental preservation movement to success, not ignorant babbling.

In order to truly support conservation, one must be able to have rational discussion with those of opposing views. Hunting organizations will continue to fight back with powerful and cleverly crafted support for their cause. Big businesses will continue to use infinite stores of money to push favorable legislation and decision into law. As long as the conservation movement continues to grow more radical and less open to discussion with entities it opposes (or even potential allies), its arguments will grow weaker and support will dwindle. The loss of support based on the absence of solid argument will cause conservation efforts to continue to reach stalemates and defeats. Only intelligent and civil discussion, coupled with the ability to cooperate with other organizations and movements, will lead to the success of conservation efforts.



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