A Bouncer Abroad – Rubber and Sustainable Tourism in Thailand

Last year one of our employees got the incredible experience of travelling through Thailand, learning about rubber and sustainable tourism. During her time, she visited Prachuap Khiri Khan Province (275km south of Bangkok), home to Kui Buri National Park, a 969sq. Km piece of protected land near the Myanmar border that is commonly said to be the best place to view elephants in the wild in Thailand. Here is her experience:

There is an estimated population of around 300 wild elephants that inhabit Kui Buri National Park. Visitors ride in the back of utility vehicles equipped with bench seats, so you are riding outside, up close and personal to nature, with the best opportunity to spot wildlife. It is a surreal experience.

During my time visiting the national park, I got the chance to take part in a homestay with a local family whom both work as guides for the national park. It was a fantastic experience staying with a local family and in an extremely rural village where foreigners are generally not seen very often. Although at times, there were quite profound language barriers we had to overcome, we were humbled to be taken into our host families daily life.

During our stay, we became aware of an interesting relationship that exists between the surrounding farmers and the elephants that live within the national park. The national park is surrounded by plantations, largely pineapple and rubber plantations. For many years, these plantations have been the predominant source of income for many of the villagers. As industry demand has grown for agricultural products, so has the supply of the land to produce them. Like many other agricultural crops throughout the world, including Australia, natural forests have been cleared to make room to support this growing demand. Thailand is in a unique position where they host a variety of exotic animals, such as elephants. The farmers in this area have had many problems over the years with elephants leaving the proximity of the forest during night-time hours and wandering through pineapple plantations eating as much as they can. The sweet smell of the fruit dramatically attracts the elephants.

Similarly, rubber farmers have had problems with the elephants wandering down the lanes of their plantations and damaging rubber trees. During the years 1980-1999, many elephants were killed by frustrated farmers trying to protect their crops. In response, the Late King Rama IX of Thailand created the Kui Buri national park of approximately 4700 acres to create a safe habitat for them to live. Farmers now cannot extend the boundaries of their farms to accommodate more land for growing their crops and killing an elephant is a punishable offence.

Sections of the area around the existing farms began to be re-forested and a light gauge electric fence was constructed around the parameter of the park to prevent the elephants from wandering from the park during the night. Although this does not always stop the elephants – our homestay host explained he has around 2000 rubber trees, but they still occasionally get destroyed due to the elephants searching for the pineapples during the night. This is a problem for all the surrounding farms. To counteract this issue, the King recently introduced a program to help keep the balance between the farmers land and the national park by encouraging community-based tourism. Many of the farmers in the town offer homestays for tourists and act as guides to see the elephants to help make income and offset the damage caused by the elephants on their farms. This has dramatically changed the way the farmers see the elephants as they now receive a new income to compensate for losses suffered from intruding elephants on their farms.

During our homestay, our hosts were kind enough to show us their rubber plantation and gave us a demonstration on how rubber sheets are produced at a home scale. Although the rubber bands Bounce Rubber Bands® produces are done at a factory scale, it was a humbling experience to witness how Thai’s living in small villages are utilising this commodity and making an honest living, as well as supporting sustainable tourism in their area.

For a more detailed overview of the Kings Elephant Conservation Project in Kui Buri, and to see a feature on “O” our homestay hosts efforts to live in harmony with these gentle herbivores, read WFF‘s article “Living With Elephants in Thailand”. If you ever visit Thailand, put Kui Buri on your list for an authentic, sustainable and unforgettable experience. And, you may even see some elephants!

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Due to climatic conditions, rubber can only be produced in the tropics. Bounce Rubber Bands® works hard with our Thailand suppliers to make sure we are providing an ethical product that supports basic Australian working and environmental standards. By purchasing Bounce Rubber Bands® at your local retailer, wholesaler or reseller you are helping us provide support to amazing projects through our corporate social responsibility initiative ‘Bounce Back’.

Bounce Rubber Bands® takes great pride in their products, service levels and commitment to client satisfaction. We offer industry best pricing and work with reputable distributors around Australia and internationally. If you have any questions or expressions of interest in becoming one of our reputable re-sellers, please contact Bounce Rubber Bands® today!