Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary
Trip Start Jan 21, 2009
25Trip End Mar 20, 2009
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I had heard about a very unusual elephant preserve that intrigued me. Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary is definitely well "off the beaten track." My 3 day stay at BLES was one of the highlights of my two month trip to Thailand and Vietnam. Yes, we know that I am already a fan of Thai Elephants, and that I am drawn to spend more time with these grand, intelligent, and social mammals. Anyone who loves the outdoors and is interested in relaxing in nature and getting up close and personal with Thai elephants, will love a visit to BLES.
I learned about BLES from two independent sources. A friend of mine, MaryLou Hecht had visited last year, and since then has been crafting the professional and interesting website and newsletters you will find at www.blesele.org
I don't know how to convey in writing how very special visiting BLES and meeting Katherine, her family, and her elephants was. You have to go there to understand. As luck would have it, the Sanctuary operates on donations and on revenue from guests.
BLES accepts a only a few visitors at a time. This is ecotourism, at it's best, and much, much more. The sanctuary was the vision of this extraordinary young couple, Katherine, and her husband Anon. In 2005, Katherine founded BLES to provide a home for endangered, abused, and injured elephants. The genesis for BLES, the story of little Boon Lott, a two year old elephant that Katherine cared for until he sadly died up in Lampang, at TECC, is very moving. You can read about that on the new website, (www.blesele.org) so I won't retell it here. Katherine founded Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary to honor Boon Lott's memory, and to create a home to protect and respect Thai elephants that are in grave danger. She first rescued Pang Tong, Boon Lott's mother, and saved her from returning to a cruel life of illegal logging work
What is it like to visit BLES? Located in Si Sathchenalai, in Sukhothai province, there are beautiful Thai villages and towns nearby. BLES is about an hour from the Sukhothai Airport and the Sukhothai Historial Parks. You can read my Travelpod entry on this blog on Sukhothai about the parks. I thought that the UNESCO World Heritage Sukhothai ruins rivaled Angkor Wat. It is easy to combine a visit there with a stay at BLES.
At BLES, Guests are welcome to participate in all of the activities of caring for and observing the elephants. When I arrived, we had a tasty lunch of stir fried bamboo shoots and other food grown at the sanctuary. I met Boon Mee, the oldest of the elephant residents; she is about 80 years old! I fed her some of our leftover fruit from lunch. I am told that Boon Mee is usually shy around people. She really likes watermelon though. She let me put it right onto her tongue! After that, Boon Mee and I had a special connection for my entire visit!
After watching the elephants bathe in their pond and roll in the mud, it was time for their walk to the forest
The next afternoon, I went with Katherine and the mahouts to cut down banana stalks to feed the elephants. This is a daily activity! Elephants eat about 400 pounds of food a day. Providing the varied and proper diet is an expensive proposition. I am so impressed with the design of the "Sanctuary." It is still growing and is a "work in progress." Already, there is food growing, land for the elephants to graze and streams for them to drink in and bathe. There are shade trees to protect them from the hot Thai sun, too.
Late at night, Anon took me out to see Tong Jai, who was in musth. When a male elephant is in musth great care must be taken approaching them. This was a very rare sight for me! It was amazing to see Anon feed Tong Jai, from a distance. From my photos of Tong Jai, taken with just the truck headlights for light, you can even see the hormones seeping from his cheek. The next morning, I had a lovely ride up to the grazing meadow on Pang Tong. Pang Tong was so excited when she spotted Pang Noi and Star already playing ahead of her, that she took off in a run
At BLES, I stayed in one of the two lovely guest bungalows. I am a picky vegetarian and found the food healthy and very local! I should point out that this is not a hotel nor is it a tourist camp. This is a working elephant preserve. The staff and management is very busy providing for the daily needs of their charges, the elephants.
While I was there, I had the good fortune to meet Connie Speight, the vivacious founder of The Elephants Umbrella Fund,(www.elephantsumbrella.org) based in California. Connie had just returned from checking on a project in Laos. Please forgive me for telling your age. I hope that when I am 85 years old, I will be trekking with elephants and still able to ride them just like you!
Katherine is quick to point out that she has not created BLES alone. The generosity of many people, make BLES. The Elephants Umbrella Fund has been a great help to BLES. Anon and many other friends of the elephants have donated the money, time, labor, and ideas that have turned Katherine's vision into a paradise where injured and abused elephants can heal and thrive, live and even reproduce unthreatened. Katherine and Anon are gifted with a keen sense of what these magnificent and complex creatures need. Katherine's fierce determination to save the Thai elephants provides an example to the Thais and other Southeast Asians. BLES is helping to educate young Thais to honor their cultural history and heritage of Thai people and Thai elephants.
I hated to leave BLES. My visit was indeed a "blessing."