There was a time when the two resident elephants at Monsoon Valley were ridden by visitors touring Hua Hin’s award-winning vineyard. But that era ended soon after the arrival of Guido Campigotto as General Manager, Food & Beverages of Siam Winery, the vineyard’s parent company a little over two years ago.
Guido’s extensive experience in managing hotels and resorts elsewhere in Thailand meant he was well qualified for his new role, but that experience hadn’t included elephant management. Fortunately Guido was not naïve to the welfare issues of using elephants as tourist attractions, including understanding that these magnificent creatures are ill-suited to the stresses of being ridden.
A decision was soon taken to retire Monsoon Valley’s resident elephants ‘Somwang’ and ‘Keawta’, and to provide them with a long-term home at the vineyard’s Baan Khok Chang Elephant Sanctuary. They couldn’t be returned to the wild, but they are now enjoying a very relaxed retirement with regular visits by specialist veterinarians to ensure their good health continues.
A purpose-built compound was completed, complete with a bathing pond and ‘elephant shower’. Then a platform for visitors to safely feed them a most nutritious diet and arrangements made for walks along adjoining jungle tracks with these graceful old ladies. But no more riding, no more chains or any other form of mistreatment.
During our visit, a delegation from the Federal Republic of Germany Embassy to Thailand led by the Counsellor for Food and Agriculture, Dr Bernd Christiansen, joined in a short jungle trek with the elephants after learning from Guido why Monsoon Valley was recently awarded as Thailand’s best wine producer of the year at the 2021 AWC Vienna Wine Awards.
At this important award event, Monsoon Valley had demonstrated the quality of Thailand’s new latitude wines, winning Gold Medals for Monsoon Valley Shiraz (2017) and Cuvee De Siam Rouge (2016) with Silver Medals for Signature Red (2016) for Signature White (2020).
Even though restrictions did not allow a tasting session during the Embassy delegation’s lunch, there’s now a significant number of award-winning Monsoon Valley wines en route to the German Embassy!
But this story is really about Guido meeting Khun Sangduen “Lek” Chailer, an amazing lady who he describes as an ‘elephant whisperer’. Khun Lek is the founder of Chang Mai’s Save Elephant Foundation where over 60 elephants are under the Foundation’s care.
Visits to the Foundation by Guido to better understand best practice for taking care of Somwang and Keawta has resulted in a very cooperative relationship. This means advice for the operations of the Baan Khok Chang Elephant Sanctuary, including elephant handler (mahout) education. There is also the prospect of the Hua Hin sanctuary becoming an occasional staging point for elephants rescued from southern provinces en route to the Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai.
Like wildlife rescue and rehabilitation operations across the country, the Save Elephants Foundation has been under severe financial pressure during Covid-times. Both volunteer and visitor donations have been scarce and increasing requests have been made to house animals left ‘homeless’ with the closure of many facilities unable to manage the expenses of both essential staff and the animals in their care.
That was a dilemma that Guido was able to bring to the attention of the Thai family who owns the Siam Winery, with an amazing response.
Khun Lek says “the Save Elephant Foundation would like to thank Siam Winery’s owner, Mr. Chalerm Yoovidhya and his family, who have given donations amounting to two million baht. This is such a huge help to our Foundation to support us to care for the elephants and all the animals under our loving care.
On behalf of SEF and all the lives under our care, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Siam Winery and Mr. Chalerm Yoovidhya for his kindness and generosity to the animals in need during this time of crisis.”
There are many more good news stories to be told about the Monsoon Valley Vineyard, one of Hua Hin’s must-see attractions.
Soon a project will enhance the Sala Restaurant to showcase much more of Thailand’s emerging wine culture with a better connection between the restaurant and the vineyard, allowing visitors to understand more about wine production, more wine tasting opportunities and conferencing facilities.
That will require a temporary relocation of dining facilities to an area below the restaurant but then a grand reopening coinciding with the harvest season early next year. But that’s another story to be told; stay tuned!