Just in from the Vientiane Times of today: Big crowd expected at next Elephant Festival Organisers of next year's Elephant Festival, to be held in February, expect more than 15,000 visitors to attend the parade of 70 elephants in Paklai district, Xayaboury province. During the first Elephant Festival, held over two days in February this year in Hongsa district of Xayaboury province, close to 50 elephants took part, mostly from Viengkeo village, the largest population centre in Hongsa district, and more than 10,000 local and foreign visitors attended the event. Next year's festival will run for three days, from February 15 to 17, as a joint project between ElefantAsia and the Lao National Tourism Administration. “Our first festival was such a success, and attracted so many people, that we decided to make it a three-day event next year,” said ElefantAsia's Programme Manager, Mr Sebastien Duffillot, at a press conference at the Lao Journalists' Association yesterday. “The event will not only aim to raise awareness of the importance of protecting elephants, but also to promote tourism and benefit local villagers, who will prepare home-stays, food and local products to sell to visitors,” he said, adding that the festival's primary purpose was to rekindle an interest in elephants, and to encourage their care and preservation. During the festival, visitors will be able to take elephant rides around the village and explore the natural surroundings. Trainers will demonstrate how elephants take part in logging projects, and there will also be a short circus performance . The 70 elephants will be blessed by monks in a traditional baci ceremony, and experts from organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society will give a lecture on elephant conservation. Gender awareness will also be taken into consideration. “There was a competition last year to select three male elephants as the most gentle and friendly, but this year both female and male elephants will be chosen,” Mr Duffillot said. Visitors can travel to the festival site by boat and bus from Vientiane and from Luang Prabang province, and 12 guesthouses will be available, as well as home-stay accommodation costing 25,000 kip a night.