A New Ecotourism in Thailand

Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of Asian elephants. They facilitate the return of captive, working elephants to protected forest habitat through community, educational and research partnerships.

Currently, nearly 5,000 elephants endure life in trekking camps in Thailand, giving rides and performing tricks for tourists. Meanwhile, wild elephant populations are dwindling. MEF works with mahouts living in and caring for an 8,000-acre protected area of forest, used to release captive elephants back into native habitat.
photo credit: Peter Yuen Photography
photo credit: Peter Yuen Photography

Nominated by...

The Project

Through this project:
- A group of 3 - 4 elephants will be walked 100+km in phases from tourist camps and returned to the forest to join previously released elephants.
- Ecosafaris, enabling ecotourists to hike and camp in the forest and observe the behaviour of elephants in their natural environment will pay the wages of the mahouts, giving an alternative to captive-elephant tourist attractions.
- Campsites and homestays will be provided by and benefit the mahouts and their families. The presence of elephants in the forest will also bring a greater incentive to protect this forest.
- Research, in partnership with the Centre for Compassionate Conservation, will be undertaken into how elephants integrate and behave in the forest to benefit future transfers of elephants.
Eco campsite
Eco campsite

The Update

Update March 2018:
The project has successfully acquired 3 new elephants and helped establish a second project site protecting 36,000 hectares of forest. The pilot site continues to be successful, is home to 4 elephants, and has been visited by approximately 100 guests.
A buffer zone around the forest is currently progressing well, with native grasses being planted where millet corn previously grew.
Support for the community started with a series of hospitality training workshops – attended by every family in the village – learning ways to earn income whilst protecting their forest and elephants. Mahouts are receiving training in tourism guiding, while families running homestays are trained in cooking for various western dietary requirements and interacting with visitors.
Researchers are so far discovering an incredible diversity in the ways in which elephants forage.
Next steps:
- Establish a guesthouse which will be operated on a co-op system whereby income is split among the entire village, thereby ensuring sustainability for this project.
- Establish a tree nursery near the village in order to restore secondary forest in an area that was cleared in the past. This area has potential as a corridor between two national parks.

Further Information

return to projects
If you are an individual who loves the great outdoors and would like to support our projects, please click the donate button below.
We are hugely grateful for the support of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, without whose support we could never have realised such an ambitious project.
Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Against Sewage