Chiang Mai – Elephant Conservation

Support community efforts working with elephants, relieved from their previous lives in the tourism industry

Travel to the mountain forests of Northern Thailand and spend time in the fields with elephants relieved from working in tourism industry. Leaving behind their lives in the tourism industry, these gentle giants now live more natural lives as a semi wild herd in the Chiang Mai Province – an area famous for its traditional elephant keeping communities.

This is a hands-off ethical elephant project which was started by the village to find sustainable ways to keep their elephants in the forest under semi-wild management.

Chiang Mai – Elephant Conservation


  • Learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social interactions and more
  • Have the incredible opportunity to observe the elephants in their natural habitat
  • Learn about elephants from the local Karen community, who have worked alongside elephants for centuries
  • See the elephants in a more natural setting, interacting with the forest, the mahouts and each other as a semi wild herd.
  • Become culturally aware living among an ethnic minority village and learn the local language Pakinyaw to assist you in your immersion into a different culture
  • Opportunity to teach English at the local school and participate in other community activities which will improve your own confidence and your relationship with the community

This project is aimed at monitoring Asian elephants in a natural living environment.

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.

The program also has a facet which is focused on community development and we encourage volunteers to get involved.

  • You will be hiking everyday with the elephants where we collect data on elephant behaviors: specifically their interactions with each other and their mahouts and how they spend their time
  • Hikes can range from 3-7 hours depending on time of year . Sometimes very easy with minimal effort, but other hikes can be challenging
  • Once a week we do health checks on the elephants during hikes to look for physical signs of ill-health.
  • You can also participate in biodiversity hikes  gathering data on birds in the area, insect sampling and camera trap surveys
  • Community Involvement: teaching English 2 days a week at the local primary school, twice a week to homestays, mahouts and local women
  • Cultural Activities:  basket weaving, rice picking, tree planting, bamboo cup making, sling shot making, and language lessons.

Volunteers typically work Monday through Friday.

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. You will convene at base early morning for a shared breakfast , after which the mahouts (elephant keepers) lead groups of volunteers and staff out to where the elephants have stayed overnight in the forest.

Volunteers will also have the opportunity to occasionally have lunch in the forest. 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.


Upon arrival to base you will receive a welcoming orientation. Throughout your program you will receive various awareness presentations on various topics including: elephant biology and welfare, ethical elephant tourism, biodiversity in the area, and the culture of the villagers here.

Field Conditions:

On this program you will be staying with a local home-stay family in the village. Your accommodation is very basic within the traditional community, so you should be prepared to adapt. All meals are included.

Free Time: 

Saturday and Sunday being either travel days back to Chiang Mai or as days off to relax around the village.

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. 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 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. 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.

All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For this program, our goals are to:

  • 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.

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, , 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.

  • 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 Conservation


Start Dates:
Specific Saturdays

1 – 12 weeks


Huay Pakoot

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