We’ve written before about the thorny issue of elephants in the tourism industry. In an ideal world all elephants would live freely, but it isn’t as simple as saying release the elephants into the wild. The loss of natural habitat and the fact that captive elephants struggle to adapt to living in the wild are just two factors in a complex debate. Even elephant experts have different views on what is the best way forward and the impact of the Covid pandemic has added to an already complicated issue. There are no easy answers. What is clear, though, is that elephants and the people who look after them in Thailand need to be supported. There are a number of ethical elephant centres around Thailand providing this support including the Save Elephant Foundation.
Founded by the charismatic Lek Chailert, Save Elephant Foundation has played an integral role in helping hundreds of elephants and their mahouts throughout the Covid-19 crises. Their tireless work was recognised in the Responsible Thailand Awards 2021 with Save Elephant Foundation winning the Pandemic Heroes category. Lek and her team established an elephant food bank and elephant foster programs. They also retrained people who worked with elephants so they were still able to earn an income during the pandemic. And Save Elephant Foundation has been proactive in showing elephant centres and mahouts an ethical alternative for the future of elephant tourism in Thailand.
Save Elephant Foundation projects
A Thai non-profit organisation, Save Elephant Foundation offers practical assistance and care to Thailand’s captive elephant population. Recognising this extends beyond simply caring and feeding for elephants, the foundation has developed a multi-faceted approach. Working with the local community and advocating responsible tourism is a fundamental part of this approach alongside rescue and rehabilitation programs.
The Save Elephant Foundation supports a number of elephant centres and projects including Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and the Surin Project in north-east Thailand. The work of Lek Chailert and Save Elephant Foundation has also inspired others to follow their lead including Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and Samui Elephant Sanctuary.
Born in Chiang Mai province in 1961, Saengduean ‘Lek’ Chailert is the driving force behind Save Elephant Foundation. Her family has a long history of working with elephants and Lek continues that family tradition. Through her work with captive elephants in Thailand, Lek has been fêted by international media and celebrities. The diminutive Thai woman takes a hands-on approach to animal welfare and can often be seen at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai which is the flagship project of Save Elephant Foundation.
Saddle Off model
Save Elephant Foundation advocates the ‘Saddle Off’ model for elephant tourism. There is no riding and no circus-style shows at any of the foundation’s projects. At each venue, the elephants are allowed to socialise, roam and forage. It’s encouraging that the Saddle Off model is being adopted at an increasing number of elephant facilities around Thailand who can see that this is a viable way forward.
Support Thailand’s ethical elephant centres
To find out more about Save Elephant Foundation and some of the projects they are involved with, see the links below:
Beyond the projects run by Save Elephant Foundation, there are a number of ethical elephant experiences in Thailand. Check out these articles on our site for more information:
- Visit an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand
- Elephants World, Kanchanaburi
- Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
- Cycling 1,400 miles across Thailand to help the elephants of Chiang Mai
- Helping elephants in Chiang Rai
- Helping Thailand’s elephants during the Covid-19 pandemic
All photos used in this article are from the Save Elephant Foundation Facebook page
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