Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some memorable moments in Thailand. Moments that will stay with me forever. Seeing shooting stars above Samui, launching khom-loy lanterns in Chiang Mai, gazing out over the turquoise sea to Ko Lipe; all memorable. If anybody had told me that standing waist-deep in a muddy river in the Thai countryside would match anything else I’ve seen or done in Thailand, I’d say they were ‘ting-tong‘ (crazy). But my recent visit to Kanchanaburi produced special memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. And I’ve got an elderly lady to thank for that. A wrinkly, ever-so-slightly hairy septuagenarian with no teeth, a big belly and a cataract in her eye. I think I’ve found my soul-mate. Let me introduce you to Songkran and her friends.
A frail, elderly elephant arrived at Elephant’s World in April 2009. Arriving during the traditional Thai New Year period, she was given the name Songkran by the staff. A life of trekking in Phuket had taken its toll. Undernourished, her bones and ribs were clearly visible. Unable to sleep on the ground and too frail to pull herself up again, the future looked bleak for Songkran. Two years of medical treatment and special diets saw this elephant begin to find her strength again, but it took another two years for Songkran’s confidence to return. The transformation was complete. Songkran had been given a second chance at life that would not have been possible if she remained in Phuket. And it is Songkran’s story that epitomizes what Elephant’s World is about.
About Elephant’s World
Elephant’s World was founded in 2008 by Dr. Samart Prasitthiphon, a veterinarian and livestock officer working in Kanchanaburi. Through his work, Dr. Samart had first hand experience of the problems and suffering experienced by some elephants in Thailand. He wanted to create a sanctuary for retired elephants. A refuge where these magnificent creatures no longer worked for people, but people worked for them.
a safe haven where they can live out the rest of their days in dignity; no rides, no shows and no work.
Elephant’s World is part sanctuary and part retirement home for elephants. A refuge for old, sick or abandoned elephants. This non-profit organisation in Kanchanaburi takes care of elephants with the motto, ‘where we work for elephants’. Staff and volunteers provide medical care for the elephants, gather food for them and provide them with a safe haven where they can live out the rest of their days in dignity; no rides, no shows and no work.
Elephants were used in Thailand to work in the logging industry, but this practice was banned in 1988. That resulted in many mahouts (elephant handlers) seeking other ways to make money. Some mahouts and elephants found work in the tourist industry at trekking camps whilst others walked the streets begging. Some elephants were abandoned in the forest, but having spent so much time under human control these animals were unable to find food for themselves and could not survive in the wild.
Meet the elephants
If you visit Elephant’s World, you’ll soon discover that each elephant has their own story and their own unique character.
Born in 1969, Malee spent years as a street elephant in Bangkok where her handler would lead her around begging for food and money. The day Malee got hit by a truck and wasn’t able to walk was the day she could no longer pay her way. Her injuries were so severe that she still has difficulty walking, but Elephant’s World have provided Malee with another chance at life. And then there’s Wasana, rescued from a trekking camp in Pattaya. Overworked and underfed, it took 2 years of care and medical treatment to get Wasana back into a healthy state. The only adult bull elephant at the sanctuary is called Rom Sai. Born in 1980, he worked in the logging industry in the jungles of northern Thailand until his left eye was impaled by a tree branch.
These are just a handful of the elephants visitors have the chance to meet, but in return for that privilege (and it really is a privilege to spend time with these remarkable individuals) you’ll have to be prepared to work.
Volunteer at Elephant’s World
Volunteers are welcome at Elephant’s World, but if you aren’t willing to muck in and get your hands dirty, forget it. This is no place for idle hands. But it is a venue where you will make friendships with like-minded individuals and form bonds with the elephants you meet. In the space of a few short hours, I was amazed, humbled and moved by my experience here. Not just by the elephants, but by the volunteers. Volunteers like Agnes and Maria who have an infectious enthusiasm and passion for helping these animals.
One of my highlights during my time at Elephant’s World was being able to scrub Songkran and her friends clean during their daily bath-time in the river. It’s difficult to put into words the magic that happens when you touch an elephant and look into their eyes. It’s an incredible experience. The elephants deserve all the attention they get, but if you volunteer at Elephant’s World you will play your own part in making the magic happen. The sanctuary is open for day visitors, but overnight and extended stays are also possible. Contact Elephant’s World for full details.
Day visit (10.00-16.00) includes:
- Feeding the elephants
- Planting/gathering crops
- Preparing special food for old elephants
- Swim with the elephants/scrub them
- Lunch and drinking water/coffee/tea are included
- Transport from/to Kanchanaburi city is arranged for you
How to get there
Elephant’s World is located in a rural setting, 32km north of Kanchanaburi. The easiest way to get there without your own transport is by contacting them directly and using their transport. Remember to take a change of clothes with you as well as a hat, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.