Elephant conservation in Thailand
Become part of a moving journey to return elephants to their native jungle. This inspiring volunteer project brings elephants back from their lives performing and trekking for tourists, rehabilitating them into a life in the wild that has been all but forgotten.
For centuries, elephants in Thailand have been seen as well-loved commodities. They are often owned by families and small communities, and put to work to bring in money for their owners. Keeping an elephant is not a cheap nor an easy occupation, and they are often forced to work long hours to earn their keep. This elephant conservation project aims to rescue these gentle giants from the working world, and return them to the wild where they belong.
Many of the elephants on this project were torn from their mothers at a young age and forced into working in elephant camps, either taking part in circus-style performances or carrying tourists on jungle treks. They are now slowly returning to the village and its surrounds as this project grows, ready to live life in the jungle under the caring eye of their mahouts. You will be joining a hardworking team of conservationists living in this rural tribal village in the mountains, helping to provide the villagers with a stimulus for bringing their elephants home.
What will I be doing?
Volunteers play a key role in returning these elephants home. The presence of this volunteer project enables the local community to have a sustainable and viable alternative income to the tourist camps. As a volunteer, you will be wholeheartedly encouraged to immerse yourself in the local community, as well as to throw yourself into the elephant-related tasks.
Each day you will trek into the surrounding countryside or jungle to meet the elephants. The elephants roam wild during the daytime, and volunteers will be going with them, monitoring them and observing them as they go. These observations may involve health checks, but largely require taking data on their social interactions with each other, what they are eating, where they are roaming and how they are acting. This is particularly important for newly rescued elephants, who often find the wild an intimidating place when they first return. In addition to the data collection for the elephants, it is imperative that we understand more about the natural environment that they are living in, including how sustainable it is, and how the elephants’ presence is effecting the ecosystem. Consequently, you may be asked to help with surveys on birds, gibbons, insects, reptiles and plant species.
The elephant treks vary in length depending on where the elephants will have slept overnight. Sometimes they may just be 30 minutes from the village, whereas other times they could be 2 hours from the village. You need to be of good physical fitness for this project because of this. Sometimes, you will be eating lunch out in the forest if the ellies strayed a long way, but most days you will be heading back to the village in time for your lunch.
In the afternoons, you will be getting involved in base camp activities and community projects. These can vary according to demands at the time, but it can include gardening, basic construction, painting, promotion, research and presentations. Additionally, volunteers are greatly encouraged to help teach English within the community. This can either be to the local school children, the mahouts or the homestay families. Lessons are informal and fun, and this often becomes a highlight for the volunteers. In addition to this, you have the great opportunity of joining members of the community in their tribal traditions – learning to cook Karen dishes, taking part in basket weaving classes – but also just kicking a football around with the locals in the evening.
The project runs Monday – Friday, with weekends for travel and relaxation.
Accommodation and food
Volunteers live in a stunning village high in the mountains, located about 4 hours from the city of Chiang Mai. You and your fellow volunteers will all be living in traditional Thai homestays, immersing yourself into tribal life. You will have your own room with a traditional Thai bed (mattress on the floor surrounded by a mosquito net) and space to relax. You will be living like a local, enjoying refreshing bucket showers and getting to grips with squat toilets. Food is provided within your homestays, ranging from delicious rice and noodle dishes to vegetables and meats.
When should I book?
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
- Live in a stunning mountainside community.
- Witness elephants living a life in the wild again, after many years of work in the tourist industry.
- Contribute to a promising method of elephant conservation in Thailand.
- Stay in a Thai homestay, and experience some wonderful hospitality.
- Become a part of the local community, and help the people here with life skills such as English.
Whyshould I do this?
Without this volunteer project, these elephants would still be performing tricks or completing backbreaking treks into the forests with tourists laden on them. Many of the villagers would prefer to have their elephants living a natural lifestyle, yet cannot afford this choice. Elephants eat about 250kg of food each day, and will often wander into fields and villages to raid crops to satisfy their hunger. For most people, this is unsustainable, and sending the elephants to work is the only option. This project enables the villagers to protect and care for their elephants in their natural environment.
Not only does your presence here mean that the elephants can live a life in freedom, but it means that you can enjoy seeing the elephants bask in this freedom. Your research and help on this project feeds into elephant research and welfare programmes across Asia. Your contribution will not only help these elephants, but will help to change the lives of elephants across the continent too.
You will fly in to Chiang Mai (CNX), where you will be collected and taken to your first night accommodation. Please make sure that your flight arrives before between 8am and 5pm on the Saturday for your airport collection. The following day, you will drive up to the village, a journey which takes about 4 – 5 hours with stops on the way to enjoy some of the sights of the Doi Inthanon National Park.
What is provided
- Before booking: Dedicated period of time on the phone or in person to discuss the project, answer any questions that you might have and find out more about you
- Access to your personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the programme and manage your booking.
- Pre-departure briefing covering medical and safety features
- Help and advice 24/7 from our UK office and on the ground in Thailand
- Visa advice (which will vary depending on length of stay)
- Airport collection
- Return transfer from Chiang Mai to the project site and back
- Full induction on arrival
- Clean, convenient accommodation in the village
- Three meals a day, which includes home-cooked local food twice a day
- A practical and theoretical education on the challenges facing animal conservation
- All project materials
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
What do I need
- A full passport valid for a minimum of 6 months after your return date
- Flights to Chiang Mai (Oyster can help you to organise these)
- Insurance covering your project time and any planned independent travel, we can introduce you to a policy
- Cost of changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs and return to the airport from Chiang Mai
- CRB / DBS check / police background check
- Any additional costs such as trips, snacks, entertainment (allow maybe £30 per week depending on lifestyle)
- No visa is necessary for under 30 days from UK and most western European countries. Advice given on longer stays. Some costs may be associated.