CHIANG RAI – After successfully running the elephant protection program at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort in Chiang Rai Thailand, John Roberts will now implement his expertise as worldwide conservation director for Anantara
What does your promotion to Anantara’s new worldwide conservation director involve?
The plan for my new role is to take what I have learned over the past 10 years building, operating and expanding both the elephant camp and foundation at Anantara Golden Triangle in Thailand, and apply it to the other operations, ecosystems and animals.
Many Anantara properties in our areas of operation already run or support conservation projects, either hands on or financially. It will be my job to assist them and help them bring these onto a scientifically sustainable footing and then, once we have identified systems that work, roll them out to other destinations.
What is Anantara’s 365 Days of Good Deeds initiative?
The 365 Days of Good Deeds programme is about combining the big projects and all the smaller, one-off, acts of kindness to the local community or the environment, such that every day, an Anantara somewhere is having a positive impact on the local community or environment.
The ‘deeds’ should lead to sustainable behaviour, ideally over and above the work our properties do in their general operation, or at least committing to the sustainable path at some initial investment — time, training or financial — in the operation.
What has been your most memorable experience at Anantara so far?
I think it was the moment that the first street walking elephant arrived in the forest in the Golden Triangle. We’ve done it so many times since and refined the process to make it better, so this time it was an amateur rescue — we didn’t even have a foundation in those days or fully understand the paperwork and yet, there she was, in a natural environment with a mahout that loved her so much that he had named his granddaughter after her. She’s still here eight or so years later, with the mahout and his granddaughter.
Another case was Tawan, the second elephant who came off the streets after being hit by a car and we let him go out to the forest with Thailand’s Royal Re-introduction Foundation.
Unfortunately, we can’t do that with every elephant due to lack of forest area, but that’s a good ‘full circle’ story for me — from a very broken less-than-one-year-old abandoned in a veterinary hospital in Surin, Thailand, to a semi-adult bull able to fend for himself in the forest .
What’s next for you and Anantara’s conservation projects?
After a brief trip to Xishuangbanna, our new resort in China, to meet a few elephant people up there, I will be moving between Bangkok, Phuket and Si Kao learning how we can support the elephant population down there and to get to grips with the work already being done to help turtles in Phuket.
Going forward, I am looking forward to studying the sustainable practices of our new hotels and resorts, including in the Middle East, and finding ways to implement them in the rest of the world.
My Best & Worst
- My best piece of advice is that if you find the right place to work, stay there until the right time comes to move on, even if it feels like it may be a dead end in your career.
- My worst mistake taught me that if I were to build the elephant camp again, I would consult people with expertise in community development because working with captive elephants is as much about building human communities as helping the elephants.
- My best career move was staying at Tiger Tops in Nepal long after the traditional ‘one year’ volunteer stint. I believed in the tiger conservation program and had an opportunity to see tigers in a sustainable, non-invasive manner.
- My worst job was when I spent a day trying to sell advertising in a magazine that, at that stage, had no content, no copy and no customer base. It felt completely immoral. I lasted one day!
- My best hotel stay was the Anantara in Xishuangbanna, in southern Yunnan. Not only because it is a great hotel but because it is so similar in culture to our home in northern Thailand, but so absolutely foreign.
- My worst hotel stay was 10 years ago in a hotel in southern China. All the physical parts were in place but no-one had any idea how to operate — things like housekeeping and staff training were completely missing.