A sailing trip out of Phuket Thailands largest island for her husbands 40th birthday led one New Mexico State University alumna to the discovery of an elephant conservation, and a passion to help the gentle giants.
Now, with every closing she has in her real estate business with Keller Williams Realty in Las Cruces, Laura Szalay makes a donation to The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a rescue conservation for elephants once used in logging, which has now become illegal in Thailand.
This has become something very endearing to me, Szalay says, and it appears other members of the local community whom she has reached out to are taking a page from her book. A lot of people in the community have actually started donating to the conservation as a result, which is pretty cool.
It turns out that the conservation is right next door to where she and her husband, Eric, stayed during their first trip to northern Thailand.
Szalay says it costs $14,000 a month to sustain the conservation with its 34 elephants and their keepers, better known locally as mahouts. This amount is allocated through supporting the mahouts and their families, who are responsible for the daily care and training of their particular elephants. Substantial funds are spent on providing food for the enormous vegetarian creatures whose diet consists heavily of sugar cane and bananas along with the ongoing, constant costs for onsite veterinary care.
In her two trips to the country, Szalay has had many experiences interacting with the elephants at the conservation, most memorably when she was able to ride one in a parade during a Songkran festival, where locals traditionally roam the streets throwing water on each other as a way to celebrate the New Year by cleansing.
People were everywhere throwing water on each other, Szalay says. It was just a magical experience. Anytime you go outside of your comfort zone, you really appreciate what you have, she says. The culture in Thailand is just amazing, its beautiful. And, the people are very kind and gracious.
Szalays passion to help animals does not stop at Thailands borders; she also supports local animal rescue groups, such as Safe Haven.