Over 300 years ago, Thailand’s communities frequently sent their fiercest men into the jungles to capture wild elephants and train them to help clear the are in order to make way for civilization. Baan Tha-Thit’s local elephants were used to assist with heavy logging until the 1980's when it was finally deemed illegal. After this law was passed, the elephants became redundant overnight. They became a huge burden for their ‘Mahouts’ (owners) because they were not bringing in the necessary income to pay for the 300 kg of food they consumed each day.
Many elephants were subsequently sold and put to work in circuses or used as props for photo opportunities with unwary tourists. To put an end to this maltreatment, a non-profit established this project and passed it onto the community to gather funds for the Mahouts. The funds help them with the cost of purchasing food and other necessities for the 35 elephants residing in the village.
This project aims to ensure the elephants continued safety, health and wellbeing, and to prevent their sale to street hawkers.
What's not Included
Baan Tha-Thit is a village located in the Surin Province within Northeast Thailand. It sits on the Chi riverbanks, a tributary of the great Mekong river. It is primarily a farming community and life in the village is laid back. Monks from the local temples often pass through to receive alms (money or goods given as an act of charity) at dawn before the farmers head off to work. The village is filled with wooden homes, dirt roads and an expanse of farmlands for the elephants at the far end. Around the village and beyond are beautiful rice and sugar cane fields.
Baan Tha-Thit is 60 km north of the cosmopolitan city of Surin, which has a population of approximately 60,000 residents – far more than the village. Surin city is in close proximity to Cambodia’s border, making it very easy to take a short trip there over a weekend.
You will volunteer in the village from Monday morning to Friday afternoon working with both the elephants and the community.
Elephant Care: In the village, you will assist with many activities involving the elephants, including:
- Feeding - Their diet consists of sugarcane and grass, which is harvested the night before so it is fresh for them to eat the next day.
- Bathing - You will often have the opportunity to take the elephants to the river for a wash and swim.
- Walking – You will take the elephants around the village for some exercise.
- Training - You will participate in basic movement training. It’s as much about training you to handle the elephants, as it is about reinforcing the commands given to the elephants.
Community Work: You will often be asked to help with small community projects during your placement. These may include:
- Making paper
- Cutting elephant grass
- Working in the rice paddies
- Planting new crops
- Repairs in the village
- Interacting with the local children (perhaps even teaching at the school)
- Cooking and cleaning at the home stay.
- Building vegetable and fruit patches for the local elderly villagers
- Assisting with creating sustainable fish farms
- Making elephant scratching posts
- Erecting fencing around farms
- Redeveloping the local village school
- Repairing the damaged road sidings.
Holidays: While the project does run on most holidays (with the possibility of shortened hours or special activities) the site will close for a two week Christmas break in late December/early January. If booking around this time, please consult your placement coordinator for exact closure dates.
Please take note of the project's minimum requirements:
- Minimum age 17 (with letter of consent)
- Enthusiasm and flexibility
- Willing to get your hands dirty
- Works well in a team
- Patience and understanding
- Immunizations (consult your local travel clinic)
Surin province is next to a land border crossing into Cambodia, meaning it is very easy to spend a weekend exploring Siem Reap – a trip that is highly recommended. You may also want to visit Koh Chang or Koh Samui, two of the most beautiful islands in Thailand. They are reachable by overnight coach (bus). There are also several treks available through Thailand’s oldest national park at Khao Yai, a 3-hour bus ride from Surin.
The team in Surin can help you with all of the necessary planning. Please note that all trips and excursions are subject to change.
Upon arrival in Bangkok, you will be taken to a guesthouse and treated to an authentic Thai-style dinner. After breakfast the next morning, you will have a volunteer meeting with the project coordinators, where you will have a ‘Welcome to Thailand’ orientation about the country, its culture, its customs and more. After the orientation you will go on a guided tour of Bangkok to get a real taste of Thailand’s unique culture.