A Positive Future for Captive Wild Elephants


in this episode

For centuries, mankind has had a complicated relationship with elephants. On one hand we greatly respect these magnificent animals, their cognitive ability, their social and emotional intelligence, their ability to learn, and adore their strength and beauty. On the other hand, we’ve abused this relationship to the tune of poaching, forced labor, and abuse in captivity.

There is hope. Unfortunately we can’t simply release every captive elephant on the planet back into the wild as it would endanger those elephants and the wild ones remaining. However, we can create and operate by higher ethical standards in captivity, to do so in a way that respect’s an elephant’s independence and agency while allowing for a new type of human experience centered on observation, and in a way that paves the way for controlled, safe wild repopulation and wild protection.

In 100 years time, we could one day have every elephant on Earth back safe and thriving in the wild. How do we get there? That’s what we are discussing today with Michael Volger, founder of The Mandalao Elephant Conservation, and Sally Kweskin, Director of The Lao Elephant Initiative.

Learn more about each organization and please donate if you can at:

The Mandalao Elephant Conservation

The Lao Elephant Initiative

And don’t forget…..proceeds from all of our elephant merchandise on Animalia – from tees to facemasks to hoodies and hats – goes directly to The Lao Elephant Initiative. So learn more about their work and then go pick one up for yourself in our Merch Store.


(2:16) Origin of Mandalao
(4:02) The Captivity Dilemma
(9:00) How Mandalao & LEI compliment each other
(11:03) Baby Kit
(13:25) Pajan – The terrifying tradition of breaking an elephant’s spirit
(15:56) Where the ethical lines are drawn in elephant tourism
(21:00) Our complex relationship with elephants
(28:51) A long-term vision where all elephants are free again
(33:45) The economics of elephant tourism
(40:00) Meet Sally, the Exec Director of LEI
(43:16) Balancing Local Education & Consumer Demand
(47:00) Local Love vs. Local Understanding & Knowledge
(50:17) Challenges of making progress in a developing country
(54:03) Why Wild Elephants are so Important
(55:02) Michael’s Favorites