My favourite thing to do is travel and volunteer, and having the opportunity to combine both passions is not only a privilege, but a mind-blowing orgasm.
I was struggling on where and what I wanted to do for my upcoming summer vacation. It is of great importance to find a captivating project that fuels my passion.
I accidentally encountered Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary while surfing the net. It met my criteria in selecting a volun-tourism experience which includes:
- low administrative fees – I want my donation and my efforts to go directly to the cause
- impact on people & community
- something to inspire me
“Love, Care, Rescue”
This is the mission statement for this non-profit foundation located 2 hours outside Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
The sanctuary currently has 4 elephants and works with the community to:
- provide income for the village by creating homestays for the volunteers to stay
- rent land and create jobs
- give back to the community by teaching English at the school, homestays and mahouts*
* mahout is an elephant rider and keeper. Usually a young boy is assigned an elephant early in his life as part of the family profession, passed through generations.
My heart and mind grew more inquisitive as I researched the inspirational work of the sanctuary founders and partners, Kerri and Sombat.
Kerri grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Ireland, and always knew she wanted to work with animals. I find it fascinating from a young age she knew “even loosely” that she wanted to dedicate her life to animals (I still am unsure). Her passion earned her a Zoology degree at Queen’s University, Belfast, and subsequently working with SE Asian non-government organizations (NGO).
She established this foundation in 2016 after meeting Sombat at another Thai project. They returned to his home where she learned the tribal Karen language to communicate with the locals, and spread awareness of unethical elephant tourism.
Sombat, the co-founder, head mahout, and Thai national grew up working in the elephant tourist trade. Elephant training is, in his blood. He returned to his village to help return abused elephants to live in their natural habitat. I think it is admirable that one wants to return to his roots, and brave that he wants to change what is considered socially acceptable practices of animal abuse in Asia.
Both are eager in their desire to ensure as many elephants live and receive adequate care, safe conditions, social interaction, and freedom. I love how their project is ethically intrinsic to the Thai community, but expands globally where volunteers can learn more about the Thai culture, and literally get their hands dirty to help out.
There are under 5,000 captive Thai elephants used in the illegal trade for the tourist industry, and live under inhumane slave-like working conditions, the polar opposite of their natural habitat. The mammals spend long hours providing rides and performing to the point of exhaustion. When their long workday is done, the elephants are quarantined with short chains without proper nutrition and healthcare. In contrast, many pet owners I know would never treat their dogs and cats in this manner. Often our beloved pets are part of our family unit, and we would not hesitate to include organic meals and TLC as typical life.
The 4 resident elephants encompass 3 generations at this time. However, in time with more sponsors the foundation would like to return more elephants to their natural environment.
The older grandma elephant is 55 years. As a youth, she worked in the logging industry followed by 2 decades entertaining tourists for elephant rides using an iron saddle with sharp rods that people sit on. Most elephants suffer from back problems due to this equipment. Too Meh, like most elephants are, was chained up alone when not working.
She is Too Meh’s daughter & is her 20’s, and worked in tourism. However, Mae Doh spent most of her life captive on a short leash as her tourist camp was not popular.
He is Mae’s nephew & Too Meh’s grandson, & is 4 years old. His mom died a horrific death due to wasp sting poisons from a fallen nest. He too, spent his youth alternating elephant rides and jailed.
He was born malnourished, over-worked as a tourist camp performer, & 10 years old.
I am eager to learn more about these strong & amazing creatures during my week internship. I admit, I am apprehensive about the labour-intensive, and 3rd world conditions, realizing I will be working much harder than my typical day at the office.
The program includes cultural immersion, sleeping on the mattress of a homestay family, hiking for several hours in tropical rain season conditions into the forest to feed/observe the elephants (hopefully I don’t end up stepping in their shit as one colleague pointed out), and teaching English to villagers and mahouts daily. I am FREAKED out about all the critters one can come across in the bush (spiders, cockroaches, mice, snakes, serpents, & god knows what else)! I have half a year to alleviate my fears. I will have to focus on my eagerness in meeting my homestay, taste-testing authentic Thai meals, and learn what a typical day of a Karen tribal family is like. My burning question, “will they have electricity to plug in my iPhone?” (yeh, I know pretty sad), but I want that photo of me feeding an elephant a banana.
Please contact me if you:
- want to learn more about the program
- help sponsor me
- donate any old clothes. The “Volunteers Packing List” suggests multiple changes of attire due to the ruggedness of jungle tropical environment. I plan to leave everything behind for the homestays to re-use when I leave for further backpacking adventures.
Finally, I will not be riding any elephants, as I would not know if the tour organization had ethical practices. It is not something I ever desired to do. To be honest, I never thought about the inhumane and cruel practices, and I am sure most tourists probably fall under the same ignorance. Next time, you see the happy Instragram selfie of elephant-riding, consider what practices the trainers and organization are following.
Sign the Petition!
Elephants are currently classed under the Draught Animal Act of 1939, a very outdated law which classes elephants as livestock, therefore allowing them to live in inadequate conditions. This petition aims to give elephants a better life by classing them under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.
Sign and share the link: