Lek Chailert – Elephant Nature Park
I’ve had the privilege of connecting with Lek Chailert – Elephant Nature Park. If there was ever proof that one person can make a difference – then read Lek’s story. Some people understand their personal purpose later in life and some – like Lek – knew when she was just a 5 year old child that her mission in life was to rescue elephants. Lek’s grandfather was a traditional Thai Healer and he instilled in his young granddaughter a profound and abiding love of animals and a deep respect for Nature.
Sangduen “Lek” Chailert – is an animal rights activist and the founder of Save Elephant Foundation. She was born in 1962 in the small village of Baan Lao – north of Chiang Mai. As an adult – Lek became an animal rights activist and a humanitarian and founded the non-profit organization Save Elephant Foundation – which operates Elephant Nature Park (1996) which is close to Lek’s home village – the Surin Project (2005) working to re-unite local Mahouts with their families) and Journey To Freedom (July 2010) – working with the Karen people and their elephants.
Lek has been instrumental in creating change in the way elephants are treated in Asia. She provides care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephants and is involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of ill, abused, blind, neglected and orphaned elephants. She also provides outreach to local communities, education in better ways to interact with animals and ecotourism. Elephant Nature Park is now ranked as one of Chaing Mai’s top attractions.
Most of Lek’s rescued elephants come from private owners and she must pay them for the animals. A rescue can take months and sometimes years. Many of the elephants come out of the jungles of northern Thailand – from logging, tourist and trekking camps. They arrive at the park frightened – ill – dis-oriented and alone. In her work – Lek has had to learn to understand the “whole” picture: the people – the animals – poverty – culture – governments and the limitations of insufficient money in all areas. It is a fine line to walk and it takes great patience and care. Animal welfare is not a natural concept in Lek’s culture and she has had to advocate fiercely for the cause of animal protection. Her work is time consuming and exhausting. Setbacks are common and difficulties are ever present.
Elephant Nature Park is now home to over 30 elephants – dogs and cats from the streets of Chiang Mai and water buffaloes. Lek never turns away away an animal or a person in need. Refugees from Burma have found their way to her sanctuary.
Lek is also involved in the protection of the forests (following a local Buddhist belief she will tie a sacred saffron scarf around a tree that she loves) and the environment and is a strong advocate for the preservation of her local area. She understands the need for creating a sustainable way of life for her people and recognizes that as the people do better – so do the animals in their care.
Lek will disappear for days at a time deep into the jungles to seek out an animal in need and at the sanctuary she is often found in the misdt of her herd of rescued animals or sitting quietly by the water lost in communication with an individual elephant. She has a deep and profound understanding of the soul of an animal and the purity of heart needed to do this type of calling.
Leks’ work is now recognized internationally. She has been profiled by National Geographic – Animal Planet – BBC – Smithsonian – CNN) and is the recipient of many impressive awards:
2001 – Ford Foundation – Hero Of The Planet
2003 – Humane Society of the USA – Genesis Award
2005 – Time Magazine – Heroes of Asia
2010 – Women Heroes Of Global Conservation (recognized with 5 other women)
2012 – Outstanding Thai Women (recognized with 8 other women).
Lek teaches local people with kindness, respect and truth and in her herd of animals you will never see a club, a bull hook or a whip. Her deep spiritual connection with her animals is based on love, trust and great patience. Tourists and volunteers are welcome at Elephant Nature Park where you can meet with Lek and watch this small, brave and unassuming woman live her life’s passion – that of rescuing and restoring the dignity of one of Nature’s most exquisite creatures – the elephant.