Karen Elephant Sanctuary Baan Mae Storb, Mae Jeam district
Journey to freedom project
Journey to Freedom is a project created by Elephant Nature Park
with the intention of allowing elephants owned by the Karen people
in the north of Thailand to retire from trekking camps and return to
living in the jungle and hills near their villages. It is intended
that this project will enable these elephants to live a more natural life
and help to restore the close connection that the Karen people
traditionally had with their elephants.
For centuries the Karen people have fostered a tradition of
living and working with elephants in their villages and surrounding
jungle. In contrast to life in trekking camps, elephants and their
owners would stay together for many years, forming close bonds and
mutual understanding. While logging was difficult and sometimes
dangerous work, the elephants were living in the jungle much of
their lives, in contrast to the unnatural environment found in
In response to the ban on logging in 1989, elephant camps were
established to take advantage of growing tourism in Thailand.
Initially, one of the men of a Karen family left the village and
stayed with their elephants to work in these camps. As time went by
though, many Karen became unhappy in this unfamiliar world and
returned to their villages and families, leaving their elephants at
the camp on lease. The elephant's life would then be lived amongst
strangers who often treated them poorly.
Over the past two decades the relationship between the Karen and
elephants has steadily eroded. Many young Karen boys today have
little interest in elephants or maintaining the tradition of caring
for elephants, handed down from one generation to the next.
A home stay has been set up in the village of Baan Mae Satop in
Mae Chaem. Volunteers stay for a week at a time and have the
opportunity to learn about Karen culture and watch the elephants
roam freely in this remote mountainous region. Fees paid by
volunteers are used to compensate the Karen for the income they
would have received from leasing their elephants to the camps. It is
hoped that the interest and affection shown toward elephants be
foreign volunteers will spark a similar interest amongst the younger
Funds from the project will also flow into the local school where
volunteers teach English. The volunteers also spend their time
planting elephant’s food, building elephant shelters, toilets and
other facilities. The Karen women will have the opportunity to
sell their beautiful hand woven textiles to the visiting volunteers.
This project, run in cooperation with the Karen people, will provide
an economic boost to the village and will benefit the entire
The first Journey to Freedom walk took place in June, 2010.
Volunteers walked with 2 elephants, Phu Gee and Mae Khum, from
trekking camp in Mae Taeng to Mae Satop for over a week, staying in
various villages along the way. Seven elephants have now returned to
the nearby jungle as a result of this project and there are plans
for more elephants to join them in the future.
This volunteer project supports
- Elephant living free in their home lands
- Education of Karen and local community to treasure and value their
- Develop and improve animals welfare in the village as help
them to improve hygene and provide enough space for their domestic animals
pigs, buffalos, and cows. Also animal vaccinations and medical care.
We bring our vet and volunteers to help treat and care for the domestic animals.
- Work together with the local community as the volunteer will
help to work at the rice field, temple, school to improve and
develop on that place
- Culture exchange : volunteers home-stay with Karen family, to
learn and respect their culture and work to help the family.
- Increase the Karen woman's income. For centuries Karen woman are
only work as mother and taking care of the plantation at farm,
their income is in depend for the man who as the leader of family,
our project would like to help the woman of Karen community to
getting more value of their living by training them to improve
their weaving quality, provide the professional weavers to
train Karen in the village to increase their knowledge of natural
dying. Also Elephant Nature Park will buy their product to sell for
- Save the forest and wild animals around the area. At Baan Mae Storp where our project are many wild gibbons there to protect, as
well volunteer will work with villager to save the forest by replanting
and fire breaks.
- Develop the local community living as help to provide to build
clean public toilet, water tank, run water pipe system, help to
build the bridge for school children, built temple, built nursery
- Volunteer program start every Monday - Operates
- The program requires a minimum of 5 persons
maximum 15 persons in order to operate. If you have
less than 5 you may be able to book if we have an
- Program suitable for over 18 year olds only