Asian Elephant Conservation
Objectives of the Elephant Sanctuary
- Give refuge to domestic elephants in an environment as close to nature as possible.
- Ensure these elephants get the best possible care and frequent medical check-ups.
- To campaign against all forms of animal abuse and exploitation in Southeast Asia.
- To educate the Thai population, especially children, about the need for wildlife conservation.
- Engage in research on the local wild populations of elephants.
The Plight of Elephants in Thailand
In Thailand, as in many countries in Asia, the Asian elephant has been domesticated and used by humans for many years to work in the logging industry. Following the ban on commercial logging in Thailand in 1988 these working elephants were no longer needed. Suddenly, hundreds of elephants and their owners were left with a very uncertain future, and their owners have been forced to seek alternative methods to use their elephants to make a living.
Wild elephants were roaming the forests of Thailand before any man dared to enter the dense jungle full of wildlife. These magnificent creatures have been living in large groups free to go anywhere they could find food, using the same paths an tracks for centuries. Civilization has over the last 20 years driven the elephants back to a much smaller piece of forest with less to forage on, and a steadily growing amount of people entering the forest to hunt and cut wood.
Why not check out the Thailand Elephant Sanctuary Gallery
City Elephants in Asia
After 1988, many elephant owners took their animals to the big cities and today there are many elephants roaming the city streets at night, especially in Bangkok, being used as ‘begging tools’. Tourists in particular feel sorry for these elephants and will buy food from the mahouts to feed to the elephants. The dirty, hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers. Elephants are frequently drugged to keep them calm in the chaotic city environment. The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic.
Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day just to prevent excretion on the streets. In the daytime the city elephants are kept hidden away from view in unsuitable locations such as rubbish tips or disused car parks, often without adequate shade and no access to good food, only leaves from city trees intoxicated with pollutants. Many city elephants suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of constantly breathing in polluted air and are at risk of standing on broken glass and other debris on the streets leading to infections. They are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.
Got a question about volunteering with elephants in Thailand? Try our Thailand Elephant Sanctuary Frequently Asked Questions
Elephant Camps in ThailandThailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using elephants as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.
They are forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks, often being beaten with spike hammers. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as moneymaking commodities. The elephants are worked hard, often with out shade, and denyed the much needed time for eating, drinking and bathing.
Habitat loss and human encroachment
100 years ago there were at least 100,000 elephants in Thailand, now sadly that number has dropped to about 5,000 (2,000 in the wild and 3,000 in captivity) and the population is still estimated to be falling at over 3% a year. 50 years ago 60% of Thailand was covered by forest, that figure is now below 20% and is still falling due to illegal logging and encroachment. Thailands wild elephants need large areas to forage for food and find water to drink and wash themselves. To get there they need to go through land that has been encroached and where people are now living and farming.
Over the last years a large number of elephants have been killed, shot and poisoned when they have got near to human settlements and some hit by speeding vehicles driving through the forest. The brutal murdering of these beautiful, powerful animals have created an outcry amongst animal lovers.
Thailand's King who is aware of the problem involving the elephants, has been closely watching and coordinating numerous efforts to conserve the Thai elephants. Other organisations such as "The Wildlife Conservation Society" have now started programmes to investigate the human - elephant conflicts and will hopefully come up with some solutions before it is too late for Thailand's wild elephants. We have been actively assisting with these projects and hope to become even more involved in the future.
Read more about Thailand from our Fact File
Thailand Elephant Education Centre
The elephant sanctuary strongly believes that education is the most important aspect of our work in Thailand, and an effective educational programme is fundamental in order to change people’s attitudes towards animals and ultimately put an end to abusive practices involving animals and the exploitation of wild animals for the tourist industry.
There is a large on-site education centre at the sanctuary, which aims to educate local people, international visitors and, most importantly, local children about the need to end animal abuse and conserve Thailand’s remaining wildlife. This contains detailed information about animal exploitation, animal welfare issues, the wildlife trade and the need for conservation. There are also a number of educational boards around the centre detailing species information and the individual animals’ stories.
Volunteers learn about the handling of elephants, their life in the wild and captivity, their necessary care and the problems they face both in captivity and the wild.
The wildlife centre regularly visit schools and teach the children about animal welfare and conservation, and run educational programmes at the centre, explaining why the animals are here and why wild animals should not be kept as pets. The project have also run camps for children in Kaeng Krachan National Park to teach children about the rainforest and Thailand’s wildlife.
The wildlife centre wish to expand their campaign against the exploitation of wild animals in the name of “entertainment”, for example performing animals, and to actively educate tourists about the cruelty involved in training elephants to perform in animal shows.
The Elephants at the SanctuaryMany of the elephants have previously been used as "begging" elephants in various cities or working at elephant camps in tourist resorts. The sanctuary gives safe haven to approximately 10 elephants. The number of elephants at the sanctuary can vary based on space available and funds needed to rescue an elephant. Read on to learn about some of the elephants that you may meet!
Duenphen - Full MoonDuenphen is approximately 60 years old. She was caught from the wild at around 2 years of age which was not unusual at that time, although still illegal. She has spent the last 40 years of her life working mainly at an elephant camp entertaining tourists with tricks.
Duenphen likes going on walks, eating different kinds of trees in the forest, and having a bath in the lake. She also likes to wander around her large enclosure and enjoys her banana balls. She can appear a little withdrawn at times and does not seem to enjoy human attention and tends to prefer her own company.
BoonmeeBoonmee spent the early years of her life working in the logging industry before spending 25 years working in the tourist industry. She was rescued from an elephant camp in Kanchanaburi in November 2012 where she spent years carrying tourists on her back and being chained to a tree in the evenings.
Her rescue was not too easy, but she finally arrived and her first day in retirement started with fresh green grass, juicy fruits, a short swim in the lake and a walk into the forest! Boonmee is one of the most friendly and gentle elephants. She loves to go for walks in the forest where she can forage lots and lots! She is also rather fond of her banana balls and enjoys being showered by the volunteers.
Pai Lin came to the sanctuary in February 2007 after spending many years on the city streets. Upon first inspection, she was in poor physical condition, underweight, dehydrated and suffering from nasal and eye problems.
As a result of carrying a heavy ‘seat’ with possibly up to six tourists in it (this maltreatment is common in the tourist industry), she had several pressure sores and her spine is visibly deformed. Thankfully, she does not appear to be in any pain.
She is very gentle and sedate and tends to prefer her own company. She likes to go on walks where she can forage and enjoys getting into the lake in her enclosure. She does like her daily showers from the volunteers and also likes to cool herself down by spraying herself all over with the water.
Kaew Petch - Diamond GlassKaew Petch arrived at the elephant sanctuary in 2014 from a beach resort after spending years in the tourism industry. As a trekking elephant, Kaew Petch was forced to carry tourist each day even though she was malnourished and underweight. Suffering from a poor diet and neglect and Kaew Petch now has a skin condition which covers 60% of her body and causes her to be extremely itchy.
Kaew Petch is a very curious elephant who follows volunteers and staff in search of food and treats. She enjoys her showers and loved to be scrubbed by volunteers as her skin condition cause her to be extremely itchy.