Following our tour of historical Sukhothai, Thailand, we spent two incredible days at BLES, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, which is in the countryside about an hour away. We had been looking forward to this destination for some time, and were rewarded immediately upon driving up to their compound.
The first elephant we spotted, just a hundred feet from the bungalows, was Somsri, their newest arrival. We were immediately moved by her old, withered and neglected body and were delighted that she will live out the remainder of her days at BLES. She arrived less than a week ago and will take six months to gain weight and return to a healthy state. Somsri was previously used as a trekking elephant and it makes me sad that unknowing foreigners would riding her, contributing to her pressure sores on her back and hips and her foot problems that prevent her from properly putting weight on her back quarters. Her previous handlers used a bull hook on her, leading to wounds behind her ears, and usually only fed her discarded coconuts.
After spending a few minutes with Somsri, we were met by the sanctuary’s founder, Katherine Conner, who is a true inspiration in what she’s been able to accomplish. Several years ago, while on vacation in Thailand, Katherine met a two-month-old elephant named Boon Lott. She instantly connected with him and asked if she volunteer to look after him. Unfortunately, he fell a while later breaking his leg, and Katherine fought tirelessly to save him, including getting him into an elephant wheelchair. A second fall led to the end of his life at just two and a half years of age.
While she was caring for Boon Lott, Katherine met a young man, Anon, who was caring for his family’s elephant that had been in a forest fire. She developed a bond with Anon and he promised her that if she followed through on her dreams to start a sanctuary for abused and neglected elephants, he would help her. Katherine returned to her native England to fundraise and returned two years later to open BLES with Anon. Their connection led to marriage and today they are raising their three young children at the sanctuary that they run together.
At BLES there are currently 12 elephants (click here to meet the elephants). Some of them are being prepared for eventual release onto forested land, as and when BLES can raise the funds to acquire more land. Other elephants will always remain at the sanctuary due to their medical and emotional needs. Some of the elephants have ongoing health issues, such as a deformed foot from a landmine, a broken leg that didn’t heal correctly, skin conditions and so on. The daily care of the elephants is done by a mahout, who handles one or two elephants each. The elephants all know basic commands, such as come and stop, but the premise of the sanctuary is to let the elephants be elephants, unchained and free (within the bounds of the sanctuary).
During our time there, we were able to participate in many activities associated with the elephants’ care and well-being. We went to the market at 5am to buy vegetables and fruits, which we were able to hand-feed to some of the animals. We loaded up the tractor with corn, which is their primary diet this time of year. We were able to wash and brush them down, and we also accompanied them on their daily river and forest walks. Seeing them in their natural environment, after years of being overworked in the trekking and logging industries (or, in some cases, begging on the streets), was just amazing. BLES’ work to provide for and rehabilitate these animals is heartwarming. To read more about the plight of elephants in Thailand, click here.
Katherine doesn’t only care about the elephants. She has also adopted six dogs and seventeen cats and is in the early stages of opening The BLES Cat and Dog Home, which they hope to open within the next year. This facility will be available to offer free health care and spaying/neutering to the animals in the local community. In Thailand, there are many street dogs and cats which roam free, leading to many injuries and rampant breeding. We plan to support BLES in our charitable giving in the future in their efforts with all animals, big and small.
BLES is a special place and tends to book up 6-12 months in advance. They only have three bungalows (one of which can hold a family), so they generally only have up to six guests at a time. They provide all food and we were treated to delicious vegetarian and vegan meals, usually with two main course options and a variety of fruits. Katherine would join us for most meals and I never tired of her stories about Thailand, the elephants and animal rescue.
Click here to read about our ten-year old daughter’s perspective on our days at BLES.
You can follow BLES on Facebook for more information on their activities and rescue stories.
Added March 14, 2013: Sadly, Somsri passed away yesterday. She lived at BLES for just 1.5 months, but at least she had live and care at the very end. RIP gentle girl. You will be missed…. xoxo.