Chiang Mai – Elephant Project


Support community efforts to help reintegrate elephants into their natural habitat, from their previous lives in tourist camps.

Volunteer in the mountain forests of Northern Thailand and spend part of each weekday in the field with elephants relieved from working in tourist camps. Leaving their tragic pasts behind, these gentle giants now live improved and more natural lives in the Chiang Mai Province of Northern Thailand - an area famous for its traditional elephant keeping communities. Volunteers can learn about elephant behaviour and contribute directly to the elephants’ lives by providing working alternatives for the owners, mahouts and villagers, allowing the elephants to live in the forest. You will observe elephants alongside mahouts who draw on generations of tribal knowledge about elephants. During your stay in Northern Thailand, you will learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social interactions and more. You will have the incredible opportunity to observe our elephants in their natural habitat. While learning about elephants from the local Karen community, who have worked alongside elephants for centuries, you will witness the improved welfare conditions you are involved in bringing to these incredibly intelligent animals.

Project core activities

  • Daily hikes (2-7 hours long) from Mon-Friday (community project runs on Fridays, so not everyone does an elephant hike but it is available)
  • Collect data on elephant behaviours
  • Twice per week elephant health checks
  • Optional bio-diversity hikes
  • Presentations & educational sessions on Karen culture & environment
  • Community involvement: tree planting, basket weaving, bamboo cup making, language lessons

We live in a communal atmosphere with the villagers and our English speaking staff who will be providing guidance throughout your time on the project. Days will begin in the early morning and will be long, as you will spend time out in the field with the elephants and return later in the day to assist with local community and base projects. Although the project can be physically tiring, you will be rewarded with both a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day and the noticeable positive impact that we have on the lives of our elephants and the local community; through helping improve the villagers English language skills and generally spending time with members of the community.

The community of Huay Pakoot owns more than 60 elephants distributed around tourist camps in the area. We work with villagers giving them incentives to return their elephants where they belong, to forage in Huay Pakoot’s forest.

A Typical Day

You will quickly learn that village life takes its own pace, rising with the sun in the morning and relaxing later in the day. After volunteers and staff convene at base early morning, for a shared breakfast , the mahouts lead groups of volunteers and staff out to where the elephants have stayed overnight in the forest.

Occasionally you will have the opportunity to assist with a quick but thorough health inspection of the elephants, providing a few minutes of close contact time to truly appreciate the beauty and size of our elephants. The rest of your hike involves following the elephants as they move through the forest, and/or harvested fields (depending on the time of year), socialising and foraging as they would naturally. During our time observing the elephants, interns and long term volunteers collect data on their social interactions with one another and their food-plants preferences. You may also have the opportunity to survey forest biodiversity such as gibbons, deer, snakes, birds, a variety of insects, spiders and plant species diversity.

Volunteers will also have the opportunity to occasionally have lunch in the forest. Not only will we bring our packed lunches to share with the group in the forest, but volunteers are encouraged to assist the Mahouts in cooking traditional food in the field using natural materials, such as bamboo as a container to boil noodles. After adequate time to observe the elephants and eat lunch, we then hike back to the village for the rest of the day’s activities.

Afternoons in the village vary every day of the week, with opportunities to get involved in the community and build relationships among the villagers, fellow volunteers, and the staff team. Volunteers are highly encouraged to help teach English at the local school, weave baskets with a local community member, play football with the Mahouts, cook with their homestay families, and make the most of such an amazing project in such a remote and beautiful area.

Volunteers typically work Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday being either travel days back to Chiang Mai or as days off to relax around the village. Many volunteers like to take the opportunity to relax or volunteers are welcome to arrange trips to nearby towns or cities. Your accommodation is very basic within the traditional community, so you should be prepared to adapt and appreciate living conditions that are sure to be very different than your home country.

The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining. With less than 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand, but around 3,000-4,000 in captivity. JCR program partner provides one of the few viable alternatives to the reality of their domesticated future within detrimental tourist camps.

Please note, this is an ethical volunteer program and we do not partake in riding elephants, demonstrating unnatural skills, or interacting hands-on with the elephants more than necessary. Unfortunately, due to deforestation associated with agriculture and logging, there is little viable habitat available to release elephants completely into the wild in Thailand. Moreover, the current laws classifying elephants essentially as livestock presently inhibits progress in improving welfare conditions. The good news is that this project is one of the few viable models that puts elephant welfare as a priority.

Your contribution will help to keep these elephants in protected forests, continue the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as provide funding to keep the project running whilst offering alternative livelihoods to the local community. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socializing, and foraging in their natural habitat, supervised by their mahouts around their local village.

How this project makes a difference:

Elephants can be very expensive to care for, and are viewed as private property and a means of generating income for the local communities. The elephants are therefore often forced into camps or street begging to make money through tourism in Thailand. The lack of viable alternatives for income from elephants is detrimental to their health and well-being.

As an unregulated industry, elephant tourism can be an ugly business. Elephants require a specific environment that provides them with social, mental, and physical stimulation to thrive. With a huge increase in the demand for tourist camps, elephants are deprived of their imperative self-medicating diet, migratory urges to move, complex social interactions and cognitive stimulation, leading to shocking repercussions in the health and well-being of the elephant.

Our volunteer project aims to provide an alternative way for the elephants to bring in money for the local village while continuing to lead healthy lives that will ensure their long-term conservation and survival.

Chiang Mai’s short, mid, and long-term objectives

All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualize their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

  • Learn about the long-term objectives you will be contributing to in Chiang Mai:
  • Increase and promote elephant ethical treatment
  • Create a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village. As well as supporting a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village
  • Improve standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village
  • Improve sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area

Volunteering with JCR not only allows you to participate on programmes assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program.

Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with JCR program partners. Our Chiang Mai field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Thailand!

Huay Pakoot is quiet rural Thai village, giving you a unique chance to learn about traditional Karen culture. Learn to cook Thai and Karen dishes with community members, and learn about everyday life in this traditional setting.

Included Side Trips

The location of this project is remote. Leaving Chiang Mai city you embark on a 4-5 hour journey into the mountains. On the way, we pass through Doi Inthanon national park (Thailand’s highest peak) and usually stop for a short walk to one of the spectacular waterfalls.
Due to the remoteness, our program is based in and around the village. The program is field based which gives you the opportunity to explore the surrounding forests on the daily hikes with the elephants. Travel and side-trip opportunities from the village need special arrangements, but the prospects for immersing yourself in the local area and village culture are huge.

Optional Side Trips

While on the program, there is ample time for you to plan side trips and organise transportation. These are not part of the program and are best taken as a weekend trip or as an activity before or after joining the program. We are always ready to assist, provide recommendations and up-to-date information. Locally, trips can be arranged to neighbouring villages and towns like Mae Chaem and Mae Hong Son. These are great places to wind down, get a traditional Thai massage or explore temples.

Though we are off the main tourist route, opportunities exist, before or after the program, for you to go bamboo river rafting, rock climbing, visit Doi Inthanon National Park, relax at a local resort/spa, and take advantage of everything that the Chiang Mai Province has to offer!

Further Travelling Opportunities

Thailand is a country with a massive range of fantastic places that you could visit. If you have the time and budget, you could consider going to see the following; the waterfalls of the picturesque Khao Yai National Park, the local tribes of Nam Province, the beaches of Ko Tao and Mu Ko Chang Marine National Park, the golden kingdom of Ayuthaya, the temples and nightlife of Bangkok, just to name a few! Chiang Mai city abounds with tour operators offering a huge array of amazing side trips in the local province, throughout Thailand and beyond into neighbouring countries such as Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

Chiang Mai – Elephant Project

Highlights include

Cultural homestay experience
It is a 2 hour drive to the town of Mae Chaem
Travelling around the local area is easily done on foot. There is no public transport but visits into the city by car can be arranged at your expense
In your down time you will be free to travel in the local area. The program is unscheduled during weekends. In this time you could visit Doi Inthanon National Park, go bamboo rafting, or make a trip into the Chiang Mai or Mae Hong Son for some western comforts.
There is the opportunity to go into Chiang Mai every two weeks, with the staff and volunteers going in for the new volunteer intake.

6:30 Breakfast arrives at base
7:30 Elephant hikes leave
12:00 Hikes return/lunch at base
13:00 Pakinyaw lesson
14:00 School or biodiversity activity
15:30 Gardening or litter pick
16:30 Ethical elephant presentation
17:45 Debrief
18:00 Dinner at homestay
19:30 Adult evening classes/basket weaving

The project was started by the village to find sustainable ways to keep their elephants in the forest under semi-wild management.

  • Vol work is Mon. to Fri
  • Hikes each day with the elephants – The length of hikes can vary depending on the time of year. During hikes we collect data on ele behaviours – specifically their interactions with each other and their mahouts, how they spend their time etc.
    Once a week we do health checks on the eles during hikes to look for physical signs of ill-health.
  • Can participate in biodiversity hikes instead of eles- gathering data on bird, butterfly and frog species, camera trap surveys, bat surveys, night hikes and medicinal hikes depending on the season.
  • Options to get involved with community work too – teaching English 2 days a week at the local primary school, twice a week to homestays, mahouts and women’s English groups. We also teach at the local kindergarten and nursery once a week.
  • Interns and volunteers will receive awareness presentations throughout their time on project, regarding numerous issues such as; elephant biology, welfare and biodiversity in the area.
  • Other village/cultural activities – basket weaving, rice picking, tree planting, bamboo cup making, slingshot making, and language lessons.
    Social activities – quiz nights, movies, games at communal base hut.
  • Optional night hikes
Chiang Mai – Elephant Project
  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Community work workshop
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Home stay accommodation
  • Transfer to base location
  • Welcome meeting
Chiang Mai – Elephant Project

Details

Start Dates:
Specific Saturdays

Durations:
1 – 12 weeks

Capacity:
20

Location:
Huay Pakoot

THCM0266P Thailand Elephants
1 WEEK $1,855
2 WEEKS $2,115
4 WEEKS $2,635
6 WEEKS $3,155