Isara-Elephant-Foundation-Thailand

Elephant Retirement Home

We provide captive elephants with the opportunity to retire from stressful working conditions and transition to a more natural life in the forest

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

These elephants are foraging freely in their natural habitat. The elephants are given verbal directions when needed, and there are no bull-hooks used to control them. During the day, elephants are free to roam, with their mahouts nearby to prevent conflicts with villagers or farms. The elephants are not forced to interact with volunteers, but they are accustomed to human interaction and elephants are naturally curious, so they are free to interact if they choose. 

Volunteers hike into the forest daily to observe the elephants in their natural habits. They measure social and foraging behaviors so we are able to learn about the individual elephants and provide the best care possible.

Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals, and the Elephant Retirement Project allows them to thrive in natural environments.

→ Happier, healthier elephants

The elephants roam unconfined all day, not controlled through pain or fear.

→ Elephants expressing natural behaviors

Able to forage freely throughout the day, the elephants can act like they would in the wild.

→ Sustainable

Allowing the elephants back into the forest is mutually beneficial, elephant welfare is greatly improved and we are able to also support the community.

Our Elephants

Elephant Retirement Home

This project is dedicated to creating a haven for elephants in the forest. Karen hill tribe community. Our vision extends beyond mere sanctuary; we strive to establish a sustainable model of community-based tourism that benefits both the local community and the elephants. Our initiative not only offers refuge for elephants in their later years but also fosters economic opportunities and cultural exchange within the community.

As an ethical elephant sanctuary, we strictly adhere to ethical guidelines. Therefore, activities such as riding, bathing, feeding, touching, forced interaction, and posed photos with the elephants are not permitted.

These elephants roam freely in their natural habitat, indulging in their native diet and socializing according to their instincts. They are free to express their natural emotions and behaviours without constraint, without any requirement for interaction with visitors.

Captive elephants are owned, akin to livestock. So an elephant’s freedom can be either leased or permanent, each with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. There is no universally correct approach; rather, we carefully assess each elephant’s individual circumstances.

Leasing entails a monthly fee, compensating the elephant owner for what they would typically earn by leasing their elephant to a tourist camp. The elephant and owner benefit from this arrangement, the elephant is no longer ‘working’ and the owner still earns an income, the drawback is the owner’s ability to withdraw their elephant from the program at any time, causing distress for all involved.

On the other hand, to permanently guarantee an elephant’s freedom entails a substantial one-time cost, depending on factors such as age and condition of the elephant, with ownership transferred to the foundation. This option ensures that the elephant can never be returned to work and gives us full control over their welfare and conditions. However, it also means that the owner receives a significant sum of money, which they may use to acquire another elephant, perpetuating the cycle.

The Community

Karen hill tribe communities are scattered throughout the mountains along the Thai/Myanmar border, where they settled as refugees after fleeing Burma due to ethnic and political conflict. They have a deep connection to the forest, The Karen population in Thailand is around 1 million and they speak their own unique language. Their long history and integration into Thai society mean they have now largely assimilated into Thai culture.

Why do they have elephants? 



Elephants have been integral to their way of life for centuries. Captive elephants in Thailand are owned, and each elephant is managed by a mahout. The Karen have a long-standing history and relationship with elephants, renowned for being highly skilled mahouts. In 1989, when logging was banned, elephant owners transitioned to using their elephants as a tourist attraction. However, keeping elephants is costly, and while tourist camp owners profit, mahouts and owners are often forced into a cycle of poverty.

Captive elephants in Thailand may always rely on tourism, but it can be done in a sustainable and mutually beneficial way for owners and elephants. We are helping to provide alternative livelihoods for this elephant-owning community. Mahouts are employed close to home so they can be with their families. The elephants’ welfare is greatly improved by being able to live in their natural habitat free from forced interaction with tourists.



The Forest

Elephants serve as keystone species, exerting a significant influence on the structure and function of ecosystems, thereby impacting the abundance and diversity of other species within those ecosystems. They play a vital role in maintaining forest health by traversing through the landscape, opening up areas to allow light penetration, which in turn stimulates new growth and enhances habitat diversity and overall biodiversity. 

Additionally, elephants are indispensable for seed dispersal in their habitats. Through their consumption of vast quantities of fruits, seeds, and vegetation, and subsequent passage through their digestive system, seeds are dispersed over wide areas through their dung, facilitating the growth of new plant species for the benefit of other organisms.

The forest where our elephants reside spans 500 rai in size, primarily composed of former conservation forest now inherited by the current village community. To gauge the elephants’ impact on the forest, we have partnered with Chiang Mai University’s Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU-CMU) to conduct comprehensive surveys and gather baseline data on tree cover and species diversity. This data enables us to monitor the elephants’ effects following their release into this area. 

The Community

The village benefits from the project, with income-generating opportunities & education

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.