In November 2018, I took a dream trip through Thailand that included volunteering at Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary in Mae Chaem, Thailand. This has been my favorite volunteer tourism trip to date, and it was a life changing experience to be able to work with the beautiful retired elephants at BEES elesanctuary.
About 100 years ago, the Asian elephant population of Thailand was booming; an estimated 100,000 elephants were living in the wild. Today, there is less than 5,000 asian elephants remaining in the wild and over 4,000 domesticated elephants. The population has dropped by over 90%, and this is mostly due to the domestication of these beautiful creatures for warfare, farming, logging, and tourism.
Though logging and warfare are outdated practices, elephants are most commonly trained for tourist enjoyment. Classified in the same family as cattle in Thailand, captive elephants are forced to learn tricks, give rides, and carry heavy metal baskets, convinced by prods and chains that inflict pain. Calves are often separated from their parents far before their natural gestation period is complete, leaving them vulnerable to disease and lacking natural instincts. Elephants are severely mistreated, often not eating enough thanks to a long day of giving rides and receiving food only as tourists pay for it. I hate the break it to you, but that popular video we see floating around Facebook that states ‘elephants think humans are cute’ is fake news. These baby elephants are trained to react to humans the way they do, for the sole purpose of our enjoyment.
Luckily enough, Burm and Emily decided to make a difference for these gentle giants. A sanctuary for retired elephants, BEES is one of a few places in Thailand that focuses on the elephants welfare as a top priority. In fact, BEES implemented a hands off approach, understanding that these elephants have been subjects to abuse by humans their entire lives, and now it’s time we serve them.
Check out this Go Pro video and see for yourself what it’s like to volunteer at Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary! The sanctuary is run solely off donations to cover costs such as food, wages, grounds up-keep, medications and more. In addition to these expenses, the average cost for BEES to purchase and retire an elephant is $30-$40k. If you’d like to support the sanctuary’s mission and help support the retiring of these beautiful animals, click here to make a contribution!
Interested in volunteering? Get the details here!