The Refuge: A Documentary on the Plight of Asian Elephants

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Photo by Fabio Di Lima Olympus Photographer/Filmmaker

Text and photos by Fabio Di Lima

The largest living land animal in Asia, the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) has been listed on the IUCN Red list as an endangered species since 1986.  Over the last 60 to 75 years, the population of the elephant has decreased by half due to poaching, degradation and loss of their habitats and fragmentation of their habitat, which leads to population fragmentation. Loss of habitat is the main reason behind the decimation of the Asian elephant. It is estimated that at the turn of the century, there were 100,000 elephants across Asia. Today there are only 30,000 to 50,000 elephants left.

There are approximately 2,000 wild elephants in Thailand. After a 1989 logging ban, most logging elephants ended up in the tourist industry. Many of Thailand’s captive elephants are poached from the wild. Sixty percent of Thailand’s elephants are captive elephants and 60 percent of these captive elephants are used for tourism.

Produced and directed by me, the Refuge is a documentary which brings to life a project that aims to cease Man’s cruelty against Asian elephants. Blinded by greed and profit, the tourism industry in Thailand keeps pitching violent blows to the sustainability of this species. The Refuge is a transparent and intimate portrait on “How all animals should be treated”. Thanks to organisations like Wildlife Friends Foundation, founded by Edwin Wiek, an extraordinary story of hope has emerged.

The Inspiration Behind the Documentary

Since I started photography, the one think that I’ve learned is that photography or film is an art that is meant to deliver a message or to generate a certain emotion. As a creator, I realised that we can do better in every project or in every piece of content. However, there is one thing that we can always do regardless of whether we have a good project or not, and that is to make the world a better place. But how do we achieve that? We need to change people’s mentality or at least create awareness of what the world needs to be in order to be a better place.

I have been really passionate about wildlife and the outdoors since I was a kid, so in that moment I knew that I had to do something related to these topics. Thanks to my job as a photographer, I travel a lot and I realised the tourism industry in Thailand exploits several animals in order for tourists to enjoy an experience with exotic animals, even though this experience harms the animals in many ways. I decided that I had to create something to bring back to Europe to show what we can’t do as a tourist because I know that many of us in Europe have no idea about the issues on the other side of the world.

After deciding what I wanted to do, I reached out to Olympus, the company I work for, to propose to them a trip to Thailand with the aim of creating a documentary on the plight of Asian elephants. Luckily for me, they accepted my proposal. I immediately contacted a few foundations and wildlife organisations with this proposal and that was when I came into contact with Edwin Wiek from Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (https://www.wfft.org/). The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is an organisation that rescues maltreated and neglected wild animals. My proposal was simple, all I wanted was to do my part as a volunteer and to produce a film documentary about this subject.

After a few months of preparation and editing, I was able to publish my first documentary that I believe will help to make the difference and turn our world into a better place.

The Refuge by Fabio Di Lima

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