Posted: 3 years ago

£2,175 per course

Find Out More
(5 Reviews)

This program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for qualified students to study Asian elephants in their natural habitat in their range country.


The Asian Elephant Compassionate Conservation field course explores how the science of animal behavior and well-being can be used in conservation, to improve outcomes for animals, people and the environment. Compassionate Conservation is an emerging cross-disciplinary scientific field, that recognizes that the health and wellbeing of all living things – including humans – are connected.

For this field course, each student will have his or her own research project, as part of an ongoing research collaboration between ICC and MEF, that is studying the behavior, social dynamics, bioacoustics and foraging ecology of a family rewilded Asian elephants. To collect the data for their projects, students will hike into bamboo and tropical evergreen forest to observe the elephants. Students will be accompanied by trained staff and elephant guardians when hiking out to the elephants.

Besides gaining field work experience, this course addresses the socio-cultural context of conservation. Students will explore the complexities and challenges of community-based conservation, and will be immersed in cultural experiences. Students will also gain language skills in S’gaw Karen and Thai, through formal lessons by our bi- and tri-lingual field staff, and by conversing with community members.

Life in the Field:

Students will be accommodated in homestays by the local village. The field site is in a remote (but not isolated) Karen hill tribe village in northern Thailand. The villagers speak Karen and Thai. The accommodations are basic, but clean and comfortable. Toilets are mostly western, but some are Asian squat style. The showers are a traditional bucket bath. There is no running hot water in the village.

Additional Trips:

Students will have a weekend in the middle of the course to explore Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is renowned for its night markets, beautiful Old City region, and delicious, traditional Thai cuisine. It is an extremely safe and easy to navigate city. Transportation to and from Chiang Mai is included in the course fee, but student’s choice of activities and accommodation in Chiang Mai during their break is their responsibility.

Elephant Field Research:

ICC and MEF collaborate on a long-term research program to study how re-wilded elephants live in the forest. This research is the first of its kind on Asian elephants and is a vital, compassionate step forward. Our research will advance the scientific community’s ability to conserve and protect Asian elephants worldwide. Accepted field course students will participate in this research program.

Expert Course Instruction:

Course Instructor: Liv Baker Phd. Msc.

Dr Liv Baker works with Mahouts Elephant Foundation, directing their research program. Dr. Baker is a conservation behaviorist and an expert in wild animal well-being. Her research focuses on the role individual, wild animals have in the health of their social groups and populations. Dr Baker’s work explores the similar patterns of well-being and behavior seen across the animal kingdom. Dr Baker’s conservation research projects involve a range of wild animals, including, elephants, primates, arachnids, rodents, and macropods. Dr. Baker is a faculty member at Hunter College, New York in their Animal Behavior and Conservation Program.

Dr. Baker will assist students with preparation for their field study and will join students for the first week of their field experience, providing on-site lectures and research guidance. After which, students will be led by MEF’s Research Coordinator Becca Winkler and their expert field staff.

Course Assistant: Mara van Maarschalkerweerd, MSc

Mara van Maarschalkerweerd joined the MEF research program for the graduation project of her second masters in Behavioural Ecology in 2018. This research project focussed on the assessment of the elephants’ wildness, as part of their well-being, at multiple project sites. She continued working on the research program after graduation and returned to study the latest elephant that MEF supports at the LIFE project site. At home in the Netherlands, Mara works as an Equine veterinarian.

MEF Founder and CEO Sarah Blaine will also be working directly with course participants. Sarah Blaine has been working for over a decade to reform the elephant tourism industry. She works internationally with industry stakeholders and will provide students with valuable insight into the complexities and challenges of creating lasting change for elephants and mahouts. Students will also be joined by MEF’s experienced field staff.

Why Field Experience?

There are hundreds of valuable summer experiences for students, but engaging in field research with real-world application provides invaluable experience for students helping them to bridge the gap between theory and practice. We keep numbers small enabling personalized learning, tailored to each student’s individual research interests. For anyone interested in a future career in the fields of biology, ecology, conservation, animal behavior or animal welfare, fieldwork is a necessary part of learning and professional development. Field research is something that all graduate programs look for in candidates.

Program Details

Eligibility and Requirements: All students in their 2nd year, or above, of an undergraduate/Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline are welcome to apply.

In addition to completing the 4-week course, to earn credit from your home institution, students must complete a final research project based on on-site lectures, and data collection. Download the application here or email for application details.

Program Length and Dates: The ICC/MEF Field Course involves 4 weeks of dedicated field time, approx. 2 weeks of pre-field preparatory work, and approx. 2 weeks of post-field individual work to complete each students research project.

Fieldwork in Thailand: July 26 – August 22
Pre-Field Readings and syllabus distributed upon final payment, reading assignments due July 15-August 2
Post-Field: Final Project due September 30

Costs: Total Cost $ 2,900*
Nonrefundable deposit of $ 400.00 due by April 15 to reserve your place
Program Fee of $ 2,500.00 due by May 15

Program Fee Includes:

  • Field Course tuition and instruction from Dr. Baker plus field guidance by TA Mara van Maarschalkerweerd and MEF Field Staff.
  • Pre-trip field orientation communication
  • On-site accommodations and meals (3x/day)
  • Program-related travel (ground transportation)
  • On-site lectures and cultural immersion activities
  • On-site translators in the field and language lessons
  • Overnight camping trips

Program Fee Does Not Include

  • Student’s own additional University Tuition (If applicable for receiving credit)
  • Airfare
  • Travel Health Insurance (required)
  • Cellular Data – MEF recommends students purchase international data
  • Incidentals, for example: Personal transportation not related to the program, additional meals, off site accommodations, personal spending money, immunizations (if needed), health or travel insurance, visas (if necessary).

*Program fee based on Nov. 2019 exchange rates from THB, and is subject to change of up to 5% based on exchange rate fluctuations.

Receiving University Credit: Field Course participants can acquire credit directly from their home universities. Students should contact their department or academic advisor and make sure to inform ICC staff of necessary materials they need to receive credit prior to making their final payment.

About Mahouts Elephant Foundation

In addition to working with animal behaviourists, conservationists, and ecologists, participating students will work closely with the team from Mahouts Elephant Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Asian elephants and the people who coexist with them. MEF started the re-wilding project “Walking Elephants Home” in 2015 to re-wild a family of elephants, rescued from working and performing in the elephant tourism industry. MEF helps provide financial stability to local people, through a safari-style ecotourism model that guides visitors into elephant habitat, where they may observe the elephants free living in the forest.

Accepted students to the program will be guests of MEF and are expected to comport themselves with professionalism, respect, and cultural awareness in the village. It is imperative to our project that all guests respect the differences in culture and strive to understand the community we work alongside with openness and compassion.

More information about the project can be found at the Mahouts Elephant Foundation Website:

About the Institute for Compassionate Conservation

The Institute for Compassionate Conservation is a multi-institutional organization with the mission of supporting the well-being of wild animals through compassion, science, and scholar advocacy. ICC holds that like us, all animals have an interest in the outcomes of their lives. All animals want appropriate shelter, safety, and food; they want to learn about and hold sway over their lives. For all animals – just like us – their physical health is intertwined with their psychological health; and their social environment matters. Reasonable challenges and positive emotions are not mere privileges an animal is fortunate enough to experience, but are essential to them being alive.

ICC works closely with the Centre for Compassionate Conservation and Compassionate Conservation Middle East.

Contact Information

Main Contact: Course Assistant, Mara van Maarschalkerweerd, MSc

Curriculum Questions Contact:

Dr. Liv Baker
Executive Director, ICC; program facilitator and research director,
Hunter College, CUNY

Submit Applications Electronically to:

5 reviews on “Asian Elephants: Animal Behavior and Wildlife Conservation in Thailand

    mvmaarschalkerweerd on

    Value for Money

    Career Preparation

    Satisfaction with Training

    This course is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students interested in animal behavior, conservation and especially in Asian elephants! Students will experience first hand community-based conservation and learn a lot about the natural behavior and natural environment of Asian elephants. If you’re seeking for an unique field experience, don’t look further and go for this ethical program in Thailand!

    Danielle on

    Value for Money

    Career Preparation

    Satisfaction with Training

    I attended this study abroad program in August of 2018 and it was the best experience of my life! This was my first time traveling outside of the country by myself and it was amazing. I felt completely safe under the supervision of the staff in and out of the forest. The Mahout foundation has an fantastic staff and the people living in the village are beyond exceptional. Everyone is super friendly and love to interact with you and get to know you. I got to be well educated on ecotourism and the amazing herd of elephants I got to go out in the forest and see. Learning how Asian elephants interact in their natural environment just shows how it is the best place for them to be so, they can thrive and be happy and healthy 🙂 If you are thinking of attending this program I highly recommend it was the best decision I ever made and it meant a lot to me.

    Kristen Jeffery on

    Value for Money

    Career Preparation

    Satisfaction with Training

    I really enjoyed my time on the Asian Elephant Compassionate Conservation field course. I signed onto this course to gain a greater insight into the connections between humans and animals. I wanted to understand coming from a social science viewpoint how these interactions can be positive (often we hear of the human-animal conflict angle) and the Foundation does a great job at identifying the amazing bonds between the mahouts and their elephants. This course is relevant to so many disciplines and is a must for anyone who is looking to explore careers in all levels of conservation. The course is located in the beautiful mountains of Thailand and provides a fantastic opportunity to practice the data collection skills you develop over the course of the month. After the month I felt I was a confident data researcher and well informed on the science of elephant behavior and well-being. I highly recommend this course!

    Laurelie on

    Value for Money

    Career Preparation

    Satisfaction with Training

    I completed the study abroad in August 2018 and it was an absolutely amazing experience. The village is beautiful and the people are so kind and friendly. The people you work alongside in the field are so fun and knowledgable.

    You learn a lot about conducting animal behaviour studies in the field. Before starting to collect data, you have assistance in preparing your research question and methodology.
    There’s a lot of long hours hiking in tough terrian – which I personally found to be a fun challenge.

    The Mahouts Elephant Foundation is truely an example of community-based conservation. The Karen people are happy with the work they do together and how the elephants are kept in the forest.

    This is an invaluable experience and would recommend it to everyone who has the chance to do it.

    Rachel on

    Value for Money

    Career Preparation

    Satisfaction with Training

    This experience will greatly influence my educational/career path. It solidified that I would like to do field research, to some degree, as a profession.

    I learned so much about elephant behavior and conservation from the perspective of scientists/staff, as well as the community around them. I learned brand new methods for observing and recording the elephants behaviours.

    The staff and community were welcoming and I felt right at home for the month and didn’t want to leave when the course ended! I highly recommend this to anyone interested in training towards a career in wildlife welfare and conservation.

Leave a Review