An elephant roaming free would be a strange sight here in the United States, but in other parts of the world, these gray giants are safer outside of enclosures.
Recent Penn State alumna Mollie McGinnis dedicated six months following graduation to a project in Huay Pakoot, Thailand, working to bring elephants from tourist camps back into their natural habitats within their owners' communities.
McGinnis took what she learned from her degree in wildlife and fisheries science to work on the Thai Elephant Forest Reintroduction Project with Global Vision International, an organization that works to fill voids in environmental research, conservation, education and community development around the world.
During college, McGinnis took advantage of several study-abroad programs, including semesters in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as a short-term embedded course in Brazil.
"In Kenya, we worked in a huge national park with a large lake that served as a food and water source for some of the most endangered species in Africa," she said. "But no one really had any idea what was in it."
The lack of funding and research in other countries inspired her to work abroad where doing research and creating management plans can make a massive impact. McGinnis noted that the small community where she lives in Thailand has no knowledge of environmental management or sustainable development, or even what constitutes an endangered species.
The Thai Elephant Forest Reintroduction Project is well underway, and McGinnis has dedicated all of her spare time in hopes of making tourists in Thai communities aware of elephant camps and how they can be detrimental to the elephants' health.
Elephants moved successfully out of the camps spend their days and nights in the forest, eating natural food sources needed in their diet and using all their space to roam and socialize.
"I absolutely love seeing the elephants in their natural habitat," McGinnis said. "Seeing such a giant, beautiful creature roaming free and living the life it is meant to live -- it's a feeling I could never describe."