“Walking Elephants Home,” a Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) project launched and run by Becca Winkler ’16, has been nominated for the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) grant—and voting is open until March 23.
“From many conversations with elephant owners struggling to make ends meet and who were unhappy with the conditions their elephants live in at elephant camps, I could see that we needed a new model,” Winkler said. “The forests of Thailand have been home to the Asian elephant for thousands of years; it is their birthright. ‘Walking Elephants Home’ is on a mission to to prove that tourists should do the work to see elephants in their habitat, rather than removing the elephants and forcing them to live in a tourist camp for our benefit.”
Winkler, a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major who first began working with elephants in Thailand as an undergrad, wrote her thesis on “Walking with Giants: Eco-feminist Insights on Elephant Tourism in Thailand.” She received a Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship grant in 2016 that helped her launch and run “Walking Elephants Home” through the MEF, a nonprofit that supports elephants and their mahouts (owners) in Thailand. Collaborating with indigenous people, the MEF offers a successful business model with ethical tourism alternatives to those who free their elephants. Their goal is to not only improve the elephants’ well-being by returning them to their natural habitat but also enhances biodiversity and prevents further deforestation.