One of my lifelong dreams have been to volunteer overseas - to help the less fortunate, those who are in need, those who do not or cannot have a voice. This year, I've chosen a program (leaving on June 9th 2013) that touched my heart. In Thailand, an unfortunate amount of asian elephants are used daily for cultural, tourist or entertainment purposes. These creatures are victims to abuse, unatural and forced behaviours, all for the profit of man.
Their morale is often beaten out of them, they are drugged, they are starved...the list goes on. As a result, many elephants who are no longer "useful" are abandoned to their new sad fate without the natural instincts it was initially born with for survival.
Luckily, many organizations across the globe such as the Global Volunteer Network (GNV) help these elephants live a better life or to help them reintegrate themselves into the natural wildlife.
Please read below for more information about the program, the volunteers' duties and the difference we can make in these elephants' lives.
Help me be a part of this wonderful cause.
What will your donation be going towards?
In order to become a volunteer, the 2-week program costs CAD$1947
The airfair ticket to get to Thailand starts at CAD$1500
Daily expenses at roughly CAD$30/day sums up to CAD$420 for 14 days.
For a total of CAD$3867
ALL donations go DIRECTLY towards this cause.
In the hopes of alleviating the costs, aside from commissioned portrait artwork rewards, I will be planning certain fundraising events in the coming months.
Please check back for information.
Elephant Refuge and Education Centre
In Thailand, as in many countries in Asia, the Asian elephant has been domesticated and used by humans for many years to work in the logging industry. Following the ban on commercial logging in Thailand in 1988 these working elephants were no longer needed. Suddenly hundreds of elephants and their owners were left with a very uncertain future, and their owners were forced to seek alternative methods to use their elephants to make a living, and this has led to the problem of ‘begging’ elephants on city streets.
Begging elephants are a common sight in some of the major towns and cities in Thailand such as Bangkok, although this practice is illegal. These elephants are paraded around and used as begging tools: their owners will ask for money to help buy food for the elephants. Money can be made by simply walking an elephant through the streets and selling fruit and vegetables for people to feed it.
Elephants are made to roam the streets at night for many hours, often being deprived of food and water to prevent excretion. They are often drugged to make them easier to handle, and beaten with spike hammers to make them perform tricks. The dirt and hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers. The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic. Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. The polluted air is extremely damaging to the elephants’ health and they frequently sustain injuries by stepping on broken glass and other debris.
During the day the elephants are tied up out of sight, frequently on rubbish dumps and in disused car parks, often with inadequate shade, water or food. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day. The elephants are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.
Other unfortunate elephants have ended up working at elephant camps, some with no cover against the burning sun. At some places they are cruelly exploited in the name of ‘entertainment’, forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks purely to entertain tourists. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as money making commodities.
About 15,000 Asian elephants are held in captivity as work animals.
The population of domesticated elephants on the streets of Bangkok and other large cities in Thailand is estimated at around 200 individuals. The city is a harsh environment for such a large forest animal. They are under constant threat of road accidents, pollution and a scorching heat that can be fatal to a large mammal such as the elephant. The city dwelling is however a financially lucrative practice, bringing in more money than work at a tourist camp or elephants conservation facility. Instead of pounding up and down busy city streets, the elephants at the centre now spend their days standing on natural ground of earth and grass instead of concrete or tarmac, breathing fresh air instead of traffic fumes, eating as much as they like with the company of other elephants and having the care of our experienced mahouts and veterinary staff. In the late afternoons, all the elephants are walked out into the beautiful forest surrounding the centre where they spend the night foraging and eating natural foods as they would in the wild.
Working Safely with the Elephants
- When working with the elephants always remember that, although domesticated, they are still fundamentally wild animals and as such can be very dangerous. Always use your common sense when around the elephant and stick to the following rules;
- Never go near an elephant alone, make sure there are always at least 2 of you and that the elephant carers are aware of your movements
- Elephants can move very quickly when they want to so bear in mind when walking with them and always be alert.
ALWAYS remember that elephants can be very dangerous and unpredictable and their mood can change in an instant. Always be alert and be extremely cautious at all times. Never underestimate their strength.
How to safely approach an elephant
- Elephants are large, strong, clever and agile; they can very easily use various body parts, such as trunk, tail, feet and even its mouth to cause injury to a person.
- Before getting close to an elephant it is best to signal that you are approaching, such as making a sound or walking slowly from the side where the elephant can see you
- Notice the elephants behaviour before getting too close. If it has ears folded or is staring at you, don’t approach. If the elephant is moving its ears, swinging its tail, or if it turns its rump to you, that indicates its mood is normal
- Do not approach an elephant from the front (always from the side)
- Do not approach an elephant from a direction where it can not see you, for example, the side where it is blind or from the rear.
- The safest place to be is on the side, near the elephant’s front legs.
Harvest & collect food for elephants from farms in local area (approx every second day). This activity usually takes place between breakfast and lunchtime.
Fodder includes pineapple plants, banana trees and coconut trees.
Note – when getting food from the fields wear long trousers, long sleeved shirts, closed shoes and working gloves. You should also take water with you plus hats and sunglasses should be considered.
Be prepared to work hard!
Additional care of Domestic Animals
Volunteer work at the Wildlife Rescue Centre involves a complex array of duties with wild animals, which differ on a day-to-day basis for each volunteer. The elephants at the centre are domesticated animals and their care is less complex due to the smaller number of animals involved as well as the nature of the work. For these reasons, care of the other domestic animals at the centre is generally the responsibility of the WRC volunteers, although EREC volunteers can share this work also. These animals include “Sam”, the rescued beach pony, and the numerous dogs.
Our partner organisation would like to expand its education centre and engage volunteers in various activities to maximise the educational value of the refuge and to promote the project. This work depends upon available resources (reference material, IT resources and staff to provide guidance), and is therefore not yet fully implemented as part of the daily routine. If you have teaching experience or particular artistic talents, please inform the volunteer coordinator, as we would like to employ your skills on our education work.
To learn even more about asian elephant conservation and what these creatures go through, please visit these websites:
for the donation, or just simply for the time you took to read this.