We waited 15 months to visit the "Gossip Girls" and stay at Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (BLES). Sooo happy we did!
This is our story of BLES elephant sanctuary-compassion, forgiveness and family.
As we rolled into the parking lot, we were greeted by four spritely dogs and a couple of ladies coming from what appeared to be a kitchen/prep area.
They did not speak English, but smiles and hand gestures go a long way in a foreign country.
As for the dogs--they gave us a sniff-- we gave them a gentle pat, and we were "cool" to move around the premises.
We heard some chatting toward the other end of property and could see three people moving down a path. It turned out to be David Owen, our host, and two other guests.
"Saw-as-dee Ka"-- All around, which means "Hello" in Thai.
David told us that the elephants were still in the forest and we would meet them tomorrow, in the meantime he would show us around the grounds and introduce us to the other rescued animals.
The founder of Boon Loots Elephant Sanctuary, Katherine O'Connor created this sweet sitting room with a small library. There are articles and pictures depicting triumphs, tragedies, love and respect for all creatures, big and small.
As we walked down the path toward the animal enclosures, David informed us that the on-site cabins were damaged during a storm and inhabitable, so we would be staying at a hotel just a few miles away.
A bit surprised and disappointed, but it turned out to be just fine.
Just down a side path, were the other animals in their "recreational" nature pens. All very lucky to have this BLES team looking after them. During our visit, there were two monkeys, tortoises, two boars and a Siamese crocodile named Jerry.
About Jerry- One Lucky "Croc"
All rescued animals have unique stories, however crocodile stories rarely make the news. As David said "Crocodiles aren't sexy, they aren't cute and cuddly", but it's an animal in need of a better life.
Jerry's owner no longer wanted to keep him and he had outgrown his 10'x8' enclosure.
He contacted BLES.
Katherine and David visited Jerry and were determined to help. He needed space! Grass! Recreation! David promised Jerry he would be back.
A fundraiser was started to raise money for a larger enclosure at BLES & to pay for the rescue and transport. The entire effort was no small feat and Jerry was successfully placed in a new "Happy" enclosure. Thank you BLES!
We headed to the hotel where the first meal would be served.
The hotel had a wonderful blue tiled pool, cold Chang beer in the cooler, a large deck, AC in the rooms, wifi and "entertaining owners"- Heinz and Ratai.
We were expecting to stay in cabins with no hot water, no wifi and a fan for sleeping. That would have been fine, but after a couple of days romping in the forest, a hot shower, a dip in the pool and AC was oh-so nice.
Before dinner, we met Katherine-the founder, and Chrissy who also worked with the elephants, introducing gentle positive reinforcement methods.
Dinner was amazing. I can now say that the noodle and salad Thai dishes at BLES, were the best we tasted throughout Thailand!
In fact, I almost fell off the back of banana truck, during a lunch break, from a bolt of flavor from one of their salads.
I had to ask, what the hell?! ( Scared everyone when I blurted that out) this is fabulous!
After dinner we hit the bed and were excited for the next day. Breakfast would be served at the sanctuary, and the van would pick us up at 7:30am.
We arrived at the BLES grounds, and saw our first glimpse of the elephants.
My heart melted.
The Gossip Girls had started their day in play area.
They kicked and smacked the banana leaf "enhanced" tires.
It was a joy to watch, everyone was smiling.
They didn't always play together, sometimes just one elephant would whip the tires around while the others watched and socialized.
It is their area and their choice.
When the excitement calmed, it was time for breakfast and we were lead into a nice open air dining area with a low table and "sit-upon" floor mats.
Closer to the food, I like it!
Breakfast included fresh juice, fried eggs, pancakes, toast, croissants, coffee, a variety of local fruit, yogurt and great conversation!
David popped in and told us about the the day ahead.
He explained that the plan was to head over to medical hut, as the "Gossip Girls" would receive some treatment before their walk in the forest.
He warned us that activities and tasks may change throughout the week (and they did) due to the vaccination clinic that was in town.
Katherine, David and other volunteers would be collecting dogs and cats for the the mass sterilization which is provided by World Wide Veterinary Service
We all understood.
Below is short video showing the treatment to "The Girls".
Next, a little background about their lives and the Mahouts, the other part of the family that walk with, and care for the elephants.
The Gossip Girls are happy elephants and doing great!
Below is a little bit more about their backgrounds.
Just so you know........
Many Asian elephants were in the logging and/or tourist industry working long hours. When the legal logging was banned in 1989, most of these elephants were moved into the trekking tourism arena. Illegal logging did continue and many elephants did both.
Wassana- She is being bandaged in the video above, and wears a red boot on her walks.
Wassana was rescued in 2010 when Katherine and her husband discovered her after taking a wrong turn on a side road. She was crying and limping as the Mahout continue to prod her with a hook. She worked in the tourist industry during high season, then in the logging industry even after her foot was injured. They knew they had to save her from this cruelty. This rescue was NOT easy, but they were determined, and with help from sanctuary supporters, they brought her home to BLES.
Pang Dow- She is standing next to Wassana in the video. As a calf, she started in the tourist industry being forced to beg on the street. Later she was sold and forced into the trekking industry, sometimes carrying tourists on her back 10 hours a day. Later, she was sold to a illegal logging group. She had already had a broken foot and was still forced to work.
BLES came to the rescue. She was anxious at first, being shuffled around, but with kindness of the BLES team, she soon became close to Pang Suai and Wassana.
Lotus - and the queen DIVA award (drum roll please) goes to: Lotus! ("Clapping" )
She's just got the "Look"!
Lotus was also a exposed to years of tourist trekking and forced breeding program.
At one point Lotus had developed a very bad infection in her foot and was unable to work. She was kept on a chain near a busy roadside.
BLES was contacted, and with the help of The Elephant Asia Rescue and other supporters, Lotus was purchased.
Lotus was ready to move on! When the chains were cut, she climbed right up into the truck. She is also treated for a scrape on her leg and insect bite.
It is amazing after years of abuse and control, that these animals are able to
At what point do they feel safe?
Humans can be tricky, but can animals feel the presence of one who truly cares for their well being?
How are we analyzed?
I guess it doesn't matter "how", but I believe they know, especially elephants.
They certainly looked us up and down, then moved on.
We must have had the right "vibe".
The animals at BLES have all been abused, one way or another,
yet they have slowly let humans back into to their circle of trust.
They can enjoy their days in the forest
the bond they feel with their Mahout is one of affection instead of duty.
The Mahout- Part of the Family
Before our visit to the sanctuary, I didn't quite understand the relationship.
Of course we experienced the best possible Mahout/elephant scenario at BLES. Care=Bond=Friend=Love.
Traditionally, this was a profession that was passed down within family lines. A boy or man and an elephant.
He may be a trainer, or keeper, and depending on the situation, it may unpleasant or even cruel.
Any action where elephants are forced into actions for profit are not right.
Fortunately, times-are-a-chang-in, but it's a slow process.
Mahouts are learning to respect; care and guide their elephants without sharp sticks and bullhooks. Many sanctuaries including BLES are not only training their mahouts the right way, but rewarding them with appropriate wages.
The Mahouts at BLES and other ethical sanctuaries are setting examples for other elephant attractions and it is important that we continue to support ethical sanctuaries.
I have a list of ethical elephant sanctuaries you can visit, at the end of this story.
Okay, it's time for that walk! David led us up the path and the elephants would soon follow. Depending on the day, some of the dogs may follow the group on the walk.
Below is sweet Ruby, a curious sweet girl. She walks and runs in a "curling" motion, almost as if her tail was the master of her direction. Her butt appears to curl to one side as she increases speed, then suddenly, she might decide to reverse her direction, spin around and head in the opposite way.
All the dogs were active and happy. We met: Wifi, Pizza, Kenya, BB, Pancake, Ruby and Locker--who loved to nibble your legs- any leg on the ground was fair game!
If you like more information about the dog and cats that live at BLES, please follow this LINK
Finally the Gossip Girls moved up the path. What a sight to behold!
Just as the girls passed, we were greeted by this handsome fella, Mr. Moo.
He also worked in the logging industry for 16 years.
He is enjoying his retirement at BLES.
At the time of our visit, BLES had 13 elephants. We could see many of the other elephants roaming around the fields, however we were always the closest to the Gossip Girls and Mr. Moo.
David led us to this observation tower where we enjoyed viewing the elephants playing in the mud and chatting about elephants with David and Chrissy.
The lunch truck arrived, and the staff brought up a nice fresh spread of vegetarian delights.
For us, it was time to head out in the truck and find banana plants for the elephants. "Fiesta Time In The Forest"!
Our truck lead the way into the forest. Katherine and Mahouts followed.
The cutting and dragging of the leaves wasn't bad, BUT, they were heavily ant infested.
It was an interesting ride back, as we rode ON TOP of those ant infested leaves.
Gotta love unexpected adventures!
The next morning, the van arrived at the hotel and we were all eager to start the day with the elephants.
When we arrived the "Gossip Girls" were romping about in their social pen.
Banana leaves were flying! Tires were swinging and Wassana was squealing.
It was going to be another glorious hike with the elephants, dogs and new friends!
We headed a bit higher to this gorgeous view of the outlying forest area.
This day, lunch was served "a la" banana truck and everyone is invited! Mr. Moo was first in line!
Throughout the visit, we spent most of our time with David, and although the staff changes from time to time, I hope you are able to meet him-someday. I have a feeling he will always be around elephants. He is truly compassionate about all the animals, and was a gracious host.
Time to head back down the hill, hop in the truck, and grab the machetes for some "slicing" and "dicing" in the banana fields.
Our time at BLES was truly an enlightening adventure.
From the elephants, we brought back a life lesson.
Although their spirit was battered for many years, the BLES family has shown them compassion does exist.
They can live the rest of their lives in peace and happiness at Boon Lotts Sanctuary.
We are grateful for the time spent with the elephants, the Mahouts and the entire BLES family.
Below is a list of ethical elephant sanctuaries.
If you decide to research on your own please do so BEFORE you go and take heed,
According to the (WAP):
If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with the wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue. Don’t go.
If you would like more information on state of the animal tourism, please see this article by the World Animal Protection.
Read about it HERE
Okay, let's get you to the elephants and support the right sanctuaries.
Here's the list of other ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand
If you decide on Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary, you will need to book at least a year ahead, just check the site for the earliest date, HERE.
Below is some information about getting there.
Fortunately, we had friends who drove us down from Chiang Mai. Here are some options that you might consider.