Canadian-funded Animal health care pays off in human dividends in the land of a million elephants.

Ridiculous as it seems, when we arrive at the small village outside of Luang Prabang in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, we don’t notice the three elephants browsing in the forest beside the road.

Grey skin matches grey tree trunks so, in spite of their bulk, they’re almost invisible. Dr. Bertrand Bouchard has already parked his mobile vet clinic down by the river, and his assistant is pulling out equipment to microchip, deworm and evaluate the animals’ health. Bouchard is head veterinarian for ElefantAsia, a non-profit group based in France that’s dedicated to the conservation and protection of Asian elephants in Laos.

When he’s ready, the mahouts (elephant handlers) shout commands, and the great beasts pick their way through the trees and trudge down the hill to him. The elephants, a male and two females, range in age from 25 to 35 and will likely work in the logging industry until their mid-40s when they’ll shift to carrying lighter burdens – tourists. Their work and their lives usually end in their early 70s.

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