By Ruth Duncan (Australian Visitor)
I came across Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary requesting volunteers and visitors, for several days or up to three months. This was definitely something I have always wanted to do, certainly with the elephants living in their natural habitat, roaming through the forest. I have seen many tourist organisations advertising something
similar, but this one seemed different. My whole experience was more than I would have ever imagined. I had a homestay with the amazing hill tribe people, I was able to walk through their little village with all the animals you could imagine just running free; It was a great cultural experience.
Our first morning started early with a walk across the swinging bridge to base camp for breakfast, I just couldn’t wait to see those elephants! From there, we hiked following foot paths high above the river, through rice fields and finally locating the elephants with their mahouts (elephant caretakers). I just couldn’t believe I was actually out in the forest seeing these beautiful animals with no chains. Our small group just sat around observing and following these amazing elephants for hours, when they moved we also moved. Each of the 4 elephants had their own personality, and the more I watched them the more curious I became, wanting to know everything about them, especially how to help keep these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.
Over the next 2 days we went into the forest to locate the elephants again. As we walked slowly behind them I took advantage of these very special moments, reflecting on how lucky I was to be here. I didn’t want to leave this forest or the elephants.
What makes this project special is that it’s not just about the elephants – it’s also about these amazing hill tribe people and their familys. They are extremely hard working people who weave to make their clothes, grow corn and rice to make a living as well as tend to their many animals. It’s a completely different life here and I am so glad I got to be a part of it.
These 4 lucky elephants have been returned back to the forest and live a happy life roaming freely, and this can only be achieved and maintained through all of our support and understanding. The foreign staff – Kerri & Talia – are 2 truely amazing people. I have enjoyed every moment from teaching grade 6 English at the school, learning to cook and eat the local food, teaching my homestay a little English, swimming in the river, making a fire to cook lunch and eating from bamboo in the forest; there is so much to experience! I encourage everyone to go and experience it for yourself. I will certainly be returning next year to support this amazing and wonderful sanctuary and the people who are trying to change the way elephants are treated in Thailand.