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Alumni Stories > Alumni Grant Reports > Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai - Deanna Kotecha (2019 cohort)

Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai - Deanna Kotecha (2019 cohort)

Deanna Kotecha (2019 Cohort) received an Alumni Grant funded by the Tanglin Foundation to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
Deanna Kotecha (2019 cohort)
Deanna Kotecha (2019 cohort)

I received the Tanglin Foundation Alumni Grant to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand for one week. The sanctuary, known as the Elephant Nature Park, is a renowned rescue and rehabilitation centre for elephants across Thailand. 

Whilst building on my knowledge of elephant conservation, I also had the opportunity to provide hands-on support for the elephants. This included preparing their food, cleaning up their faeces, gathering wood to make fire (to keep them warm at night) and feeding them!

The Elephant Nature Park currently houses 112 elephants!  A park of this size requires staff and volunteers to carry out tasks such as  – cleaning, cooking, maintenance, construction, and clerical work. Each individual elephant also has a caretaker that stays with them from 7am till 5pm.

Part of my education was learning about the important bond between the elephants and the elephant caretakers. All the elephants had been rescued from abusive environments where they faced physical and mental abuse. I learned it’s important for the elephant caretakers to form bonds with the elephants based on love. I observed that the elephant caretakers rarely touch the elephants and can communicate with them in Thai instead. This crucial bond allows the elephants to trust in humans again, despite being traumatised by humans in the past.

One of the first and most difficult stages of conservation is rescuing the elephants from the abusive environment. I learnt that rescuing an elephant is a difficult process as many elephants are used by families and companies as a primary source of income. This income is often depended on to sustain these peoples’ livelihoods. Therefore, they are not willing to give the elephant away so easily, and often ask for a sum of money in exchange for the elephant. The elephant nature park must pay the money to save the elephant and take it back to the park. 

The primary threats to Asian Elephants are elephant riding camps, illegal logging (where the elephant must pull heavy logs), circuses, other tourist activities, landmines, forced breeding and poaching. Many of the elephants have sustained painful injuries, including dislocated hips, burns, amputated legs, blindness from bright circus lights and many more. 



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