The Surin Project is run by Save Elephant Foundation (SEF) which is a Thai non–profit organization. SEF is dedicated to providing care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through a multifaceted approach involving local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations.
Each of our flagship projects is aimed at accomplishing that mission, as well as working towards these goals:
to expand self-sustaining eco-tourism operations that benefit local communities and ecosystems to better incorporate our efforts into local communities and to ensure their benefit through our continuing operation to become a leader in the field of Asian elephant research through academic outreach and education programs to create practical, positive reinforcement based elephant training and rehabilitation programs to establish an international volunteer community that raises awareness to issues facing the Asian elephant to more fully integrate with the global conservation community to facilitate dynamic cross-cultural networking
In the past the lack of employment opportunities and the deterioration of the elephant’s natural habitat have forced many mahouts from Ban Tha Klang to take their elephants to large cities and beg on the streets. The lack of high quality food and clean water, paired with the stressful environment of the work seriously impacts the elephants’ health, both physically and psychologically.
In 2009, the Surin Provincial Administrative Organization approached Save Elephant Foundation asking for help in developing responsible elephant-based tourism in the Surin Elephant Study Centre. With their support, our goal is to establish sustainably managed elephant tourism as an alternative to both street begging, and to other forms of tourism such as circuses and elephant rides.
Since the conception of the Surin Project, the Volunteer Elephant Program has allowed volunteers to spend time with the Surin Project elephants, be it walking in the forest, bathing them at the river or watching them as they interact in our purpose built enclosure. Other than the obvious benefit to the elephants, this program is instrumental in developing strong and durablerelationshipswith the local community through hours of interactions between volunteers and mahouts, developing a real feeling of community across cultures.
The Surin government has already set aside over 2,000 acres of land for elephants and their mahouts and we are working with local partners to reforest this area providing, with time, a rich and varied source of food for captive elephants in the area. Elephant husbandry is a reality in Thailand and deeply engrained in the cultural lifestyle. We therefore need to work in close collaboration with the local community in order to implement any positive and long lasting changes in traditional elephant management. The destruction of elephant habitat and the alteration of the hydrological systems over the last 50 years have made the situation in Surin increasingly dire, resulting in a severe lack of food for elephants and more importantly water to grow this food.
The Surin Project is also committed to raising awareness regarding the plight of the Asian elephant and inspiring people worldwide to work together towards finding solutions to these problems. Educating volunteers and mahouts alike will result in a better understanding of the situation and provide them with the tools to make the necessary changes.
Another concept of the Surin Project is that it does not own or buy any elephants. Upon seeing an injured or suffering elephant, many people’s first reaction is to want to buy the elephant and bring it to a sanctuary where its fate can be controlled by the sanctuary owners. Although this will improve the life of that elephant, very little thought is given to what happens to the large amount of money that was paid to the previous owner. It can be found that the owner goes and buys another elephant and can put that elephant through the same amount of suffering. The cycle only repeats itself when someone else then buys that elephant and brings it to a sanctuary.
Instead of buying the elephant, the Surin Project is working alongside the elephant owners and providing mahouts with a weekly salary (along with other incentives) we are keeping the mahout involved and providing them with a sustainable form of income which is totally dependant on the continued welfare of their elephant. The more popular this form of tourism becomes the more the welfare standards will improve for captive elephants and the elephant owners will still be making an income.