Caring for Elephants in Thailand

Travel to Thailand's Chiang Mai Province and volunteer with elephants rescued from working in tourist camps. Assist with the elephants' rehabilitation and help mahouts (traditional elephant keepers) with working alternatives. Discover the fascinating culture and lush mountain forests of Northern Thailand in your free time.

Volunteer in the lush mountain forests of Northern Thailand and spend each day in the field with elephants rescued from working in tourist camps. Leaving their tragic pasts behind, these gentle giants now live natural lives in the Chiang Mai Province of Northern Thailand, an area famous for its traditional elephant keeping communities.

Volunteers can learn about elephant behaviour and contribute directly to the elephants’ lives by providing working alternatives for the owners, mahouts (elephant keepers) and villagers, that allow the elephants to live in the forest. You will observe elephants alongside mahouts who draw on generations of tribal knowledge about elephants.

During your stay in Northern Thailand, you will learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social skills, and more, and then have the incredible opportunity to observe everything you have learnt in-person with our elephants. We know that you will be able to see the happiness you can bring to these incredibly sophisticated animals during this opportunity to learn about elephants from Karen communities that have worked with elephants for centuries.

"I have had the opportunity to observe and work closely with these social and complex animals, which would be impossible with elephants in the wild. Staying in a traditional Karen community has been a million miles away from life in England. I have been made to feel really welcome here and I feel privileged to be part of a project that is helping both the elephants and the community in which they live." - C.Wingham (UK)


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What to Expect?

Expect rates (that fluctuate with local currency exchanges) from $525wk, based on  4 weeks of contribution, and include meals, accommodation, training, 24/7 emergency support, local transportation, and a small contribution to the financial health of the effort. 2 week rates from $920/wk. Costs can be fundraised against, just ask us how!

You will live in a communal environment with villagers and English-speaking staff providing guidance throughout your time on the project. Early mornings and long days spent in the field and on community projects are rewarded by a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, and the noticeable positive impact that you will make on the lives of the elephants and the local community where you will live. The members of the village own more than 60 elephants distributed around tourist camps in the area. The project works with villagers giving them incentive to return their elephants to the natural habitat where they belong, and to forage in Huay Pakoot’s forest.

The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining. With less than 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand, but around 3,000 in captivity, we are one of the few viable alternatives to the reality of their domesticated future within detrimental tourist camps.

Please note, this is an ethical volunteer program and participants will not partake in riding elephants, or demonstrating unnatural skills.

Your contribution will help to keep these elephants in protected forests, continue the conservation of these beautiful animals and their habitats, provide funding to keep the project running, and offer alternative livelihoods to the local community. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socializing, and foraging in their natural habitat, supervised by their mahouts around their local village.

Elephants can be very expensive to care for, and are viewed as private property and a means of generating income for the local communities. The elephants are often forced into camps or street begging to make money through tourism in Thailand. The lack of viable alternatives for income from elephants is detrimental to their health and well being.

As an unregulated industry, elephant tourism can be an ugly business. Elephants require a specific environment that provides them with social, mental, and physical stimulation to thrive. With a huge increase in the demand for tourist camps, elephants are deprived of their imperative self-medicating diet, migratory urges to move, complex social interactions, and brain stimulation, leading to shocking repercussions in the health of the elephant.

This conservation project aims to provide an alternative way for the elephants to bring in money for the local village while continuing to lead healthy lives that will ensure their long term conservation and survival.

A Typical Day
You will quickly learn that village life takes its own pace, rising with the sun in the morning and relaxing later in the day. After volunteers and staff convene at base early morning for a shared breakfast and quick morning meeting about the day’s activities, the mahouts lead groups of volunteers and staff out to where the elephants have stayed overnight in the forest.
Occasionally you will have the opportunity to assist with a quick but thorough health inspection of the elephants, providing a few minutes of close contact time to truly appreciate the beauty and size of our elephants.

The rest of your hike involves following the elephants as they move through the forest, socialising and foraging as they would naturally. During our time observing the elephants in the forest, interns and long term volunteers collect data on their social interactions with one another and what food sources they are utilising, as well as survey forest biodiversity such as gibbons, deer, snakes, birds, and a variety of insects and spiders.

Volunteers will also have the opportunity to occasionally have lunch in the forest. Not only will we bring our packed lunches to share with the group in the forest, but volunteers are encouraged to assist the Mahouts in cooking a few more dishes in the field using all natural materials. After adequate time to observe the elephants and eat lunch, we hike back to the village for the rest of the day’s activities.
Afternoons in the village vary every day of the week, with opportunities to get involved in the community and build relationships among the villagers, fellow volunteers, and the staff team. Volunteers are highly encouraged to help teach English at the local school, weave baskets with a local community member, play football with the Mahouts, cook with their homestay families, and make the most of such an amazing project in such a remote and beautiful area.

Volunteers typically work Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday being either travel days back to Chiang Mai or as days off to relax around the village. Your accommodation is very basic within the traditional community, so you should be prepared to adapt and appreciate living conditions that are sure to be very different than your home country.

  • Program ID: # 1649
  • duration:
    1 to 2 Weeks
    2 Weeks to 1 Month
    1 to 3 Months
    More than 3 Months
  • location:
    Chiang Mai Bangkok
    18° 50' 38.0904" N, 98° 59' 52.0872" E
  • Fitness level:
    Light Impact
  • Closest Airport:
    Chaing Mai (CNX)
  • Costs From:
    $1500 to $3000
    Over $3000
  • Program Type:
    Environmental & Wildlife Programs
  • Click Here for More Info

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