The Community

While improving conditions for elephants, we are also improving conditions for the community.

The Karen people

Karen hill tribe communities are spotted throughout the mountains along the Thai/Myanmar border, where they settled as refugees after fleeing Burma due to ethnic and political conflict.They have owned elephants for thousands of years. The population in Thailand is around 1 million, and speak their own unique language. Their long history and integration in Thailand means they have now largely assimilated into Thai society.

Why do they have elephants?

Captive elephants in Thailand are owned, and every elephant is managed by a mahout. The Karen have a long-standing history and relationship with elephants, they are famous as highly skilled mahouts. Most of the mahouts in Thailand today are Karen people. In 1989 when logging was banned, elephant owners transitioned to using their elephants as a tourist attraction. Keeping elephants is costly, and while the tourist camp owners profit the mahouts & owners are often forced into a cycle of poverty.

Captive elephants in Thailand may always need tourism, but it can be done in a sustainable and mutually beneficial way for owners and elephants.

Isara Elephant Foundation offers alternative livelihoods for this elephant owning community, with no loss of income, the elephants get to live naturally with less control, mahouts are employed close to home so they can be with their families. The elephants, while roaming free, are still monitored closely for everyone’s safety.


Volunteers coming to our project value elephant welfare, but also value the Karen culture, and are as engaged in the community as they are with the elephants. Volunteers will teach English at the school and to any villagers interested in learning. We will contribute and work with the villagers on community development initiatives.

Community members receive direct income from hosting volunteers in their home, teaching cooking and traditional crafting classes and selling woven clothing and bamboo goods.


Isara Elephant Foundation will support fundraising efforts for the community and any needs that may arise, and we will call upon our network to help us support the community, which is a vital part of our work.

Isara Elephant Foundation works with the Karen community to build a sustainable and ethical alternative to the usual tourism camps.

→ Elephants

The elephants welfare is greatly improved, living in the forest and not being forced to interact with tourists

→ The Community

The village benefits from the project, with growth in development and opportunities for education & income

→ The Forest

Elephants play an important role in forest health, as they roam throughout the forest they open up areas, allowing light to enter and creating new growth, adding habitat variety and overall biodiversity to the forest.