I am currently in Thailand (Gemma flew home yesterday); predominantly we were here to conduct research on the ethical venues we recommend on Thailand Elephants (www.thailandelephants.org). Having a personal experience will add value to our knowledge and travel advice. Gemma visited multiple projects and gained much needed information on venues, mostly resulted in positive feedback, she then joined me at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (KSES) for a few days. I worked at KSES for 1 month. I am now travelling, relaxing and visiting more venues.
The founders of KSES are Kerri and Sombat, who we had met on Global Vision International (GVI) elephant project 3 years ago (where we all started)!
From left: Sombat, Gemma, Kerri and I
So here I am going to talk about KSES…. (I wrote this while on the project which is why I talk as if i am still there)
Peaceful is the perfect word to define the environment we live in here, be that around the ele’s or in the village with the locals.
What is great about KSES? Many, many things: elephant welfare is their key priority, elephants are free to roam and forage the luscious mountains in the SW of Chiang Mai, visits and long-term volunteers/interns are welcomed (minimum of a 1 night stay, maximum 3 months), the elephants have strong bonds with their long-term mahouts, mahouts are well-paid and very respected (which is uncommon in many camps). KSES has a very strong relationship with the village/locals which is very important for this community based project, this place offers the opportunity to be immersed in Karen hill-tribe culture where you can learn their local language (unique to their tribe) and be involved in special ceremonies/occasions. Interns take the lead in taking data on hikes which is developing every day into more and more valuable data, in the hope this data can published to benefit the husbandry and welfare of captive elephants throughout South-East Asia. Human interaction is limited to allow the elephants to roam but you are definitely able to get some wicked shots and selfies/elphies.
KSES aims to bring more elephants back to the forest which will bring increased income into the local village as well as offer the mahout and their elephant a better life.
Village bubba and her cow mate 'Colin'
So, since I’ve been here what have I done?
I’ve hiked every day through the very green mountains, the hikes are currently about an hour and a half each way, it’s rainy season so the muddy hikes can be quite comical. Luckily we’ve always just missed the rain. Banana feeds start the hikes at the beginning of the week, allowing an opportunity to be close to the gentle giants. Lunch in the forest after our hike is a real treat, the mahouts will cook lunch and we all have a massive feast before heading back to the village.
The best hike I went on we observed the grandma, grandson and auntie frolic in the river, they went crazy in the water, vocalising loud: like they were the happiest elephants in the world, they protected the little one from the strong current by making a wall either side of him. For me, that was my moment of serenity, the moment I felt so appreciative of a place like this, a true sanctuary for these elephants that truly have suffered from human entertainment and exploitation through tourism. I also felt so lucky to be there in that moment. It feels so good to know that this project was not only offering a lifetime experience to people, but raising awareness and education on the elephant situation in Asia. I’ve been surrounded back in the culture I once adored and never stopped missing. I’ve been to the school to teach English, the children are great and eager to learn and play games. Volunteers are full of questions and it’s great that people are so interested in what they can do to help elephants or KSES. I’ve met so many wonderful people from all walks of life; this place is just truly unique. I cannot rate it enough.
Photo credit: Steven Lin
We’ve just produced a survey as we’re trying to get together some qualitative research on people planning on travelling to Thailand. It’s quick and easy! Please help us share this far and wide; we have little time left to collate as many surveys as possible! - https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TEtouristsurvey
- Jade Clayson