Overview

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

Travel to Thailand’s Chiang Mai Province and volunteer with elephants relieved from working in the tourist industry. Assist with the elephants’ rehabilitation and help mahouts (traditional elephant keepers) and other villagers establish alternative livelihoods. Discover the fascinating culture and lush mountain forests of Northern Thailand in your free time.

Overview

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.

Our Award-winning Partner

Conservation Careers has teamed up a family-run organisation with an amazing culture and an awesome team of people across the world who are passionate experts in their chosen field and will make your experience a truly unforgettable one (in a good way).

Their award-winning projects receive over 2000 participants every year, and we’re proud to say that the vast majority of them describe their experience with us as ‘life changing’. Our approval rate from over 20 000 participants since 1997 is over 95%.

A key component of the success of their community development and conservation projects is the participants who join our programs. Opportunities include high impact volunteering from one week and up, internships for those looking for career development opportunities, Challenges that allow a one week adventure all for a good cause and a range of programs for school groups and younger volunteers.

If you register your interest below, you’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip!

To see all our Internship opportunities, please click here.

Testimonial

“I have had the opportunity to observe and work closely with these social and complex animals, which would be impossible with elephants in the wild. Staying in a traditional Karen community has been a million miles away from life in England. I have been made to feel really welcome here and I feel privileged to be part of a project that is helping both the elephants and the community in which they live.” – Claire Wigham (United Kingdom)

Location – Chiang Mai

Surrounded by breathtaking mountainous scenery in northern Thailand, volunteers will quickly ease into a very peaceful way of life that still exists here. Project work itself takes place in Mae Chaem District, a 5-hour journey into the mountains, where the famous Karen elephant-keeping communities reside and who have shared a unique and sacred relationship with elephants for hundreds of years.

Life on the Internship

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.

Project Details

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. Our 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.

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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.

Free Time

Volunteering with our partner 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 our partner. 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.

Side Trips Included

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 Travel 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.

Dates and  Costs

The programme lasts between 1 and 12 weeks weeks and costs as follows:
  • 1 weeks £965
  • 2 weeks £1,100
  • 4 weeks £1,370
  • 6 weeks £1,640
  • 8 weeks £1,910
  • 10 weeks £2,180
  • 12 weeks £2,450

Start Dates

2018 – 04 Aug 2018, 18 Aug 2018, 01 Sep 2018, 15 Sep 2018, 29 Sep 2018, 13 Oct 2018, 27 Oct 2018, 10 Nov 2018, 24 Nov 2018, 08 Dec 2018, 22 Dec 2018

2019 – 12 Jan 2019, 26 Jan 2019, 09 Feb 2019, 23 Feb 2019, 09 Mar 2019, 23 Mar 2019, 06 Apr 2019, 20 Apr 2019, 04 May 2019, 18 May 2019, 01 Jun 2019, 15 Jun 2019, 29 Jun 2019, 13 Jul 2019, 27 Jul 2019, 10 Aug 2019, 24 Aug 2019, 07 Sep 2019, 21 Sep 2019, 05 Oct 2019, 19 Oct 2019, 02 Nov 2019, 16 Nov 2019, 30 Nov 2019, 14 Dec 2019

What’s Included

  • 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
  • Comprehensive training program that encompasses theory lectures, group study and field practise
    Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Required transportation for the duration of your stay
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting
  • Your own room within homestay

What’s Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal kit
  • Police or background check (where necessary)
  • Visa costs

Reserve your place or ask a question

About Conservation Careers - Internship

Conservation Careers has teamed up a family-run organisation with an amazing culture and an awesome team of people across the world who are passionate experts in their chosen field and will make your experience a truly unforgettable one (in a good way).

Their award-winning projects receive over 2000 participants every year, and we’re proud to say that the vast majority of them describe their experience with them as ‘life changing’. Their approval rate from over 20 000 participants since 1997 is over 95%.

A key component of the success of their community development and conservation projects is the participants who join their programs.