Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary

Trip Start Jan 21, 2009
1
25
Trip End Mar 20, 2009


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Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (BLES)

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 had also heard stories from the mahouts at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) about the amazing young English woman, Katherine Connor, who lived at TECC for 2 years before starting BLES with a dream and determination to protect Thai elephants from abuse and extinction.

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. Seven more elephants, each with their own touching stories, have joined Pang Tong so far.

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. We hiked up a beautiful dirt road behind the 5 females and their mahouts, watching and listening to their antics. I spent the afternoon sitting on a log getting to know each of the "girls."

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. It was a good thing that "At," Pang Tong's mahout was riding with me. With his strong hands on my waist, I wasn't frightened at all.

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."
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Comments

Belinda Ogley on

Thank you so much for posting this. I am visiting Katherine and staying in BLES from 23 February 2010 with 2 other friends in Facebook.

I got to know Katherine personally and met up with her in London after the initial introduction in Facebook. She is a wonderful wonderful person with a BIG heart for all animal welfare, and so are her parents.

Beinda Ogley

Belinda Ogley on

Sorry, mispelt my own name :(
This time is correct.

Belinda Ogley
London

Johnny on

This place looks awesome!
I've been working to rise awareness about the elephants' lots in some parts of Asia, and BLE seems a great place for them! Thanks for letting me know about this place.
If you want to know a bit more about it, you can visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzD_g1zue5o where Richard Lair explains us what's at stake.

nsevers
nsevers on

Thank you Johnny for your thoughtful comment and for the great Richard Lair video links! Yes, Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary is a very special place. I visited again recently. Katherine and Anon have just rescued 3 more elephants. They are improving the lives not just of Thai elephants, but of an entire village of people too! Be sure to check out their Wish List at http://www.blesele.org. Perhaps you have some friends that can help out! Nancie:)

mags on

Have you a charity, as I would like to help.

mags on

do you have a charity, as I would like to donate

nsevers
nsevers on

Hi "Mags,"
Thank you for your asking how to donate. I enjoy seeing that my blog is being read. Yes BLES is a really special place. There is a non-profit foundation based in the UK. You can find all of the information on how to donate at www.blesele.org
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary is on Facebook too. Search for it and you can get in touch with Katherine directly. On the Facebook site there is a "Donate" button that accepts credit cards and Paypal. Please contact me again if you need anymore information! Nancie:)

Jim and Sydney's Thumb on

We're all supporters of Boon Lott here at Sydney's Thumb. The story of the Boon's heroic struggle is so gripping and full of pathos. Come visit our website. We recently set up Artists for Oceans and Animals (AOA) that hopefully will raise some money for Boon Lott and other related rescue efforts:

www.Sydneysthumb.com/aoa.html

We also track elephants stories on our forum. I posted a link to your blog and story about staying at Boon Lott.

"Travel light...leave shallow footprints."

Jim Currie

nsevers
nsevers on

Thank you Jim! Yes, BLES is a very special place. I have visited a second time and Katherine and Anon continue to astound me with what they are accomplishing at BLES. As of September, 2010 they have 13 elephants in the Sanctuary. The latest rescue of Pang Dow, (Miss Lucky Star) is an truly incredible story. http://www.blesele.org/katherines-journal
Nancie:)

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