Located in the mountains of Northern Thailand in the Chiang Mai province this is your chance to volunteer with elephants rescued from working in the tourist industry. Assisting with the elephants’ rehabilitation and helping mahouts (traditional elephant keepers) and other villagers with establishing alternative livelihoods, this experience is going to be a hard one to beat. This is a rehabilitation project for elephants that have been freed from the tourist industry that involves bringing the elephants back to the forest and monitoring their social and physical well-being in a semi-wild environment, while at the same time still allowing their owners and mahouts to earn a living with the elephants through other means. The endangered Asian elephants that might once have been used for street-begging, in circuses or in trekking camps, are now free to be elephants again with their natural tendencies to forage and socialize within their herds. During the time observing the elephants in the forest, interns and long term volunteers collect data on the elephants’ social interactions with one another and what food sources they are utilising, as well as survey forest biodiversity such as gibbons, deer, snakes, birds and a variety of insects and spiders. You will be involved with conducting health checks on the elephants meaning that you will get the chance to interact with them to some degree.
Living with a host family within the Karen hill tribe village of Huay Pakoot, you will be fully involved and immersed with the villagers and the community. Not only will this volunteering program involve hikes into very dense forest and hard terrain, going up and down hills to record data on the forest biodiversity and the elephant herds, you will also be doing chores in the village such as rice picking, chopping firewood, basket weaving or grass cutting. Volunteers hear project presentations, input any data that was recorded in the morning hike and also have the option of teaching English to the children at the school or getting involved with the community members with tasks such as cooking with them, weaving a scarf or head band or testing out their best Pakinyaw (language).
Due to the remoteness of the village traveling around is not easy, but your free weekends you could visit Doi Inthanon National Park to take in Thailand’s highest peak and waterfalls, go bamboo rafting or make a trip into the Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son to enjoy cooking classes, Muay Thai training and shows, night bazars, temples and the famous Thai massages. There are many festivals celebrated by the community members in the village such as the Full Moon, Songkran and Lantern festivals allowing you to experience the culture and traditions this hill tribe has to offer. The more open-minded you are and willing to integrate with the community, the more you are going to enjoy this project.
What you need to know
The hikes can be physically demanding as there are few set paths when hiking up and down steep hills amongst the thickest of trees and shrubs. Sensible walking boots are a must and it is recommended that you do some hill/forest walking before your arrival. Because one of the goals is to allow the elephants to be as natural as possible in their environment, there is limited hands-on time with the elephants and volunteers are to try and keep a decent distance between the elephants and themselves. It allows for the collection of more accurate data and to have more of a unique and special experience as it is rare to have the opportunity to watch Asian elephants in the wild.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country and on this project volunteers are extremely fortunate that the community of Huay Pakoot are very welcoming towards them into their everyday lives, including them in ceremonies in the Temple on religious holidays, weddings and Gijew (tying in) ceremonies. Volunteers need to be aware and respectful of specific customs and rituals of Thailand to allow for this positive and strong relationship to continue. We advise you to read up on local history, culture and customs before you travel. You will receive training and a Health & Safety briefing including an elephant presentation, basic language lessons and training as required for each activity/aspect.
- Placement and pre-departure help
- In-depth travel advice on how to get to where you need to be
- Full training and orientation upon arrival
- Shared accommodation within a local family home, safe and to good standard
- Meals when on base
- Onsite support by experienced staff
- 24-hour emergency phone
What’s Not Included?
- Travel and health insurance
- Visa costs
- Local transport and spending money
- Vaccinations if required