Thailand Elephant Sanctuary with Jennie of the Jungle Part 2 - Elephant Nature Park

Photo by Jennifer Ilene

November 2015 was my first-ever trip with my new business Jennie of the Jungle, and I chose to take clients to volunteer at Lek Chalert's Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. The Elephant Nature Park is among a few of the only legit conservation organizations/sanctuaries in the country. Many organizations claim to rescue elephants, but in reality they deny them true freedom and natural behavior, the ability to socialize and form family groups, and continue to exploit them and their negatively trained behaviors for profit. As a general rule, if you can ride an elephant, it is still being abused.

Lek and one of her beloved elephants
Elephants have to have their spirits broken in order to learn behaviors that are unnatural to them, such as riding people around, doing tricks, and yes - even painting. Breaking an elephant's spirit takes years and years of abuse - which, in Thailand and many surrounding countries, involves beating, burning, skinning, starving, and other brutal tactics that we don't like to think about. But this is an important subject to which people need to open their eyes. Most people don't understand what these animals are put through in the name of entertainment. It's a matter of education, and Lek Chalert's mission is just that. She spent two years undercover traveling around Thailand, videotaping elephant abuse by logging companies and individuals who "owned" elephants. The footage is horrific, sad, depressing, and much worse. She then raised funds (to the chagrin of most everyone in her country) to start the Elephant Nature Park where, after she purchases a severely abused elephant from an abusive owner or company, she nurses them back to health and lets them roam freely in the park. She has sacrificed much of her own life and time to give these elephants a chance. She has a relationship with every individual in her park, and it shows. Her elephants love her deeply. She has been injured a number of times during the rehabilitation process, but shrugs it off and keeps going. She is always raising more money to expand her property in order to rescue more elephants.

Volunteers at the center are allowed to work at the sanctuary while elephants roam about freely (each with its own mahout, or caretaker who stays with it 24 hours per day), are allowed to feed them, watch them from overhead walkways, walk beside them, and help bath them (the elephants love it when you throw buckets of water over their backs while bathing in the river). But they never have to do something they don't want to do. They are allowed to go anywhere they want and do anything they want, and it's a beautiful sight to see. Some are scarred for life, and prefer to be loners, and some are social and playful. Every individual is different and unique. And working among them is an awesome experience! Sometimes they will even allow you to touch them, if they are friendly and comfortable with it. I commend Lek on her hard work, dedication, and extreme love for these animals. Though they will never be returned to the wild, they have the best life possible thanks to her. I will continue to work with Elephant Nature Park into the future.

Giving a watermelon treat to one of the rescued elephants. This one has a club foot due to the injuries of its previous owner

A young female takes a refreshing mud bath

A beautiful, early morning at the sanctuary

Dust baths for everyone!

Bonding with the friendliest elephant at the park, Jan Peng

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ilene Photography
One of Lek's other conservation projects (she has many - as her goal is to educate as many of the locals as she can in order to save as many elephants as possible) is called Journey to Freedom. Volunteering with this project involves living with one of the Karen tribe families and helping them out with day-to-day elephant care and other tribe projects. This tribe once owned and exploited elephants (as many did), and now are working with Lek to provide freedom and sanctuary to these elephants. Rather than exploit the elephants for money used to make a living, they now collect volunteer fees from the many volunteers willing to have this experience, make enough money to live, and let their elephants roam free. They allow volunteers to help collect food for and feed their elephants, take daily walks with them through the jungle, and interact with them as long as the elephants are comfortable and happy doing it. The elephants are fenced into a very large area, but are free to roam around the area freely. They must be fenced in or others will come in and steal them for their own profit. Through volunteer projects such as this, more and more tribes are learning to live with and care for their elephants properly, have stopped exploiting and abusing them, and are able to make a living and educate others on proper care of elephants. Meanwhile, volunteers get to be part of a true conservation experience, not to mention connecting with an animal that most have never seen up close and personally!

Experiencing the playfulness of a baby elephant. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ilene Photography

Chidren of the Karen Tribe. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ilene Photography

Walking through the forest with the elephants. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ilene Photography

Bonding moment. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ilene Photography

Crafts to support the Karen schoolchildren

My experience, as well as that of the clients who traveled with me, was unforgettable. This is exactly what I want to offer people with Jennie of the Jungle. A true conservation experience where an individual really does make a difference, and a unique way of being able to connect with a truly loveable and enchanting animal. I look forward to my next Thailand elephant adventure coming up in January 2019.

Volunteer group and leaders, November 2015


  1. Très joli blog avec de très jolie photos Éric France


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