Volunteering at a sanctuary for Elephants

Recently, I returned from my winter trip to Thailand. My main reason for visiting this country again was because I was volunteering at a sanctuary for Elephants. Over a period of four weeks, I divided my time in several locations: Koh Chang, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok. I visited with Elephants, outside of Chiang Mai and later at the sanctuary in Phuket.

My time in Koh Chang was beach time! And a quiet time to do some shibori stitching.


Unfortunately, there are now several Elephant Camps, at Koh Chang, which use Ellies for riding and photo opportunities. Not cool!

I encourage all tourists who have ever entertained the thought of riding an Elephant to first find out about the background of how Elephants are trained for such activities (if that doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will). Instead, go to a real sanctuary, where these majestic animals are treated with respect and love! (no riding, painting displays, minimal physical contact etc)

In Chiang Mai, I checked out Ton Yon Market street

This out of the way street was chock full of small shops, which sold various Indigo tie dye textiles and various crafts.

Additionally, I spent time walking in the old city, having spicy meals and the occasional foot massage.

In Phuket, I did some rewarding work!

This was my third trip to Thailand and the second time with Elephants. I volunteered at a relatively new sanctuary, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary (PES)


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Over the past six years, I have been going to Asia, volunteering at sanctuaries for Elephants

At the present time, PES has 8 female Elephants of varying ages and backgrounds. Suffice to say that all Elephants in any sanctuary come from extremely cruel backgrounds. They come from circuses, street begging and logging. Logging in Thailand ended in 1989, although some illegal logging still occurs.

Upon returning home, I am often asked what types of work I do as a volunteer. Each sanctuary has different requirements. Generally, I volunteer for 7-9 days. Over the past 6 years, I have volunteered at sanctuaries in India and Thailand.

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Volunteers work on a variety of jobs, most of them physical (not easy in the extreme heat of Phuket). They include: cleaning the Ellies’ enclosures (removing their poop, plant debris from the previous day’s meal, sweeping, dumping the refuse in a large pit etc). We also put new food in their enclosures (pineapple leaves) and prepare and wash their food (watermelon, pineapple, cucumber). Other jobs include handing out food to tour groups to feed to the Ellies, raking & burning debris from guest sitting areas, hoeing and planting grasses for the Ellies, cutting banana stalks in the jungle. One of our scheduled jobs was to clear out a creek of fallen logs and plant debris. However, staff members of PES had spotted a couple of cobras there, so that assignment was nixed!

This sanctuary has space for a total of 25 Elephants, which hopefully will quickly be filled, with more rescues

In addition to PES, I spent a half day visiting the Karen Elephant Reserve. This project is sanctioned by Elephant Nature Park, near Chiang Mai. There are only 3 female Elephants, Pondee, a 1.5 year old baby, her mother Tamoo, who is 45 years old and was used for logging and Flan, 9 years old, formerly a circus Elephant.

The villagers at the Karen Elephant Reserve own and care for these 3 Elephants

During day trips, visitors feed them, engage with them mainly by observation and spend some time in the river with them. However, many photo opportunities were available, as our guide was eager to photograph us with the Ellies. We were each loaned a traditional Karen woven tunic to wear during our visit.

I find these volunteering experiences to be immensely gratifying

As long as I am physically able to do so, I will continue to volunteer at Elephant sanctuaries. And I hope that in my small way, I am helping these gentle giants to have a better life!

The last part of the trip, Bangkok!

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Hi. I'm Maija.

Producer of one of a kind fabrics, I am a Visual/Textile Artist at MaiTribe Studio Gallery, in central Ontario, Canada.

My life and art have been inspired by my travels  to countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bali and India.

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