Working with Elephants - Go Differently
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Working with Elephants

This project offers a unique opportunity to gain a basic understanding of the Thai domestic elephant and their relationship with their mahout. You will learn how to care for these intelligent, gentle giants as well as having the opportunity to learn about the traditional life of the mahouts and join in with various communal activities.

The Elephant Mahout Project is located approximately 20km south of Pattaya on the eastern gulf of Thailand. The mahouts live with their elephants in a peaceful camp by the sea, offering controlled rides for tourists at various fixed times of the day.

Volunteers taking part in the project will work closely with one elephant (and her mahout) throughout the duration of their stay forming a close bond and relationship. As a volunteer at the project you will follow a progressive training schedule; walking with your elephant through the area surrounding the camp, learning from the mahout how to verbally command your elephant to follow directions, helping to shower the elephant, feed her and keep her living area tidy. If you wish, you will learn how to climb onto your elephant and ride on her neck (or you may prefer to walk alongside her) through the surrounding countryside, learning new commands and techniques as you develop confidence and your elephant becomes more responsive to you.

Other activities that you can get involved with at the camp may include general maintenance of the camp, mahout village and trekking trail – path clearing, litter collection etc – helping with construction and gardening, providing information for visiting tourists and teaching English to the mahouts and their families.

You may also get the chance to cut grass and pineapple leaves as extra food for the elephants and help with cooking in the village.  There will also be plenty of time for relaxing in a hammock and simply watching your elephant and learning about its behaviour and personality.

The beach and other attractions are also nearby and can be visited at weekends and after finishing at the project each day at around 3pm.

7 days/7 nights

£450 per person


Perfect holiday as it is or would you like to make a few changes?

As with all our trips, this itinerary can be tailor-made to suit you.

About the project

The Elephant Mahout Project helps to provide a safe working and living environment for the elephants, their mahouts and families. By giving volunteers the chance to get up close to these intelligent creatures the project generates extra income for the camp and the mahouts so that they are not forced to overwork their elephants, as they may have to do at other camps in Thailand.

The extra income raised by the project also helps to provide food, better living conditions for the elephants and medical assistance. The project also aims to re-educate mahouts that may have been trained to mistreat their elephants and raise their awareness of the expectations that western visitors have for animal welfare, and provide education for tourists, locals and children about the importance of the Thai domestic elephant and the problems they are currently facing.

Daily Activities

Usual daily schedule

08.30You will be collected from your accommodation for the 10 minute drive to the camp.
09.00Training with your elephant and mahout.
10.00Relaxation/activities in the camp and village.
11.30Traditional Thai lunch.
13.00Training with your elephant and mahout.
14.00Caring for your elephant, relaxation/activities around the camp.
15.00Collection from the camp and return to your accommodation or take part in optional afternoon activity.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday are your free time to explore the local area or take trips to places of interest. Our local staff will be happy to advise on places to visit.

Please be aware that there may be certain times when it is not possible to work the elephants, such as when it is very hot or raining heavily and that the above schedule is a guideline only and subject to change according to circumstances.

What you’ll learn

Throughout your time at the elephant mahout project you will train with one elephant. Over time you will notice your elephant start to recognise you and become responsive towards you – it’s an amazing feeling when your elephant first shows you this recognition!

On the first day your elephant needs to get to know you – particularly the sound of your voice and your scent. Today you will walk with your elephant through the mahout village and surrounding forest learning from your mahout and guide the commands to make your elephant follow you, stop, turn, lift its leg, drink etc. You will also feed your elephant and keep its living area at the camp clean and help your mahout to give the elephant a shower.

On subsequent days you will start the day again walking with your elephant, then, if you wish, you will learn how to climb on your elephant – don’t worry everyone needs help the 1st time! After a short ride on the elephant’s neck through the village, learning from your mahout and guide the different commands for your elephant, you will learn the equally important art of getting down! In the afternoon you will take a longer ride on the elephant’s neck through the surrounding countryside. (Note: riding on your elephant is optional and if you prefer to walk beside her instead, we positively encourage this).

Volunteer Accommodation

Comfortable accommodation is offered in our Volunteer House which is situated in the suburb of Bangsaray, about 10 minutes’ drive from the camp.

The house is located within a private, residential community and our local office is based in another of the houses nearby. You will have your own air-conditioned, comfortable modern bedroom with two bathrooms being shared between three rooms. In the communal areas there is a lounge area and a kitchen area where you can prepare snacks.

At the office nearby there is free internet and free wi-fi connection (if you bring your own laptop), there is also a telephone for making international calls for an additional charge and a widescreen television and DVD player where volunteers can watch DVD’s together. Also near to the house and office is a restaurant where you will have breakfast and be collected in the morning.

The beach is a few minutes’ drive from the house and a car and driver are usually available to take and collect you from the beach.  Bangsaray beach is a quiet, non-touristy beach with small restaurants and shops nearby. Cheap local transport is within a couple of minutes’ walk from the house, if you wish to travel into Pattaya, visit nearby attractions or stock up at the supermarket! Also within a few minutes’ walk are convenience stores (7-11) and the fishing village of Bangsaray, with more stores, restaurants, internet cafes and a local market.

Whilst conditions at the camp are much more basic, many volunteers enjoy the experience of spending a night in the village with the mahouts and their families.  More details on this can be supplied upon request.

Problems faced by Thai elephants and their mahouts

When logging was made illegal in Thailand many elephants and their mahouts were left without their profession and primary source of income. As a result of this two things happened:

1. Mahouts were forced to take their elephants onto the city streets to beg.  It goes without saying that living and working in a city with all the dangers of traffic and pollution (which can cause respiratory problems) is no place for an elephant.  Sadly some mahouts also feed their elephants amphetamines to make them work longer hours; adequate food and/or grazing areas are in short supply and many elephants are forced to live under bridges and beside busy roads.

2. Tourist camps were set up offering elephant trekking and rides, however, unfortunately, in order to make enough money, many of these camps overwork the elephants offering rides and treks all day long in intense heat, allowing the elephants insufficient time to eat and drink.  (An adult elephant eats around 200kg of food per day which takes quite some time to achieve!)  Many camps also force the elephants to wear their ‘tourist chairs’ all day which can result in permanent spinal damage.

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers of ALL ages welcome (although those under 18 do need to be accompanied by a responsible adult).

Those travelling solo and families are particularly encouraged to participate in this friendly and inclusive volunteer project.

Volunteers should be open-minded, willing to respect Thai culture and have a social attitude towards the local people.

As well as working with your elephant and her mahout, you will get more out of your experience if you are also willing to support with general activities like cooking and cleaning.

We recommend a minimum stay of one week in order to ensure you get the most out of your visit, however, shorter durations can usually be arranged.

Suitable for all abilities/fitness levels (but please do let us know if have you have any particular health concerns and we’ll be happy to discuss).

“This was the most life changing trip we have taken. So much was learned, shared and taken with us. We took our Mahouts and their families out for dinner on the beach, on our last night there. Such a joy to spend time having fun with them after all they shared with us.

We both cried when we left our mahouts and elephants, tears of joy and sadness, before, during, and after the ceremony on Saturday morning.

We highly recommend this holiday for everyone.”