By Darian Weber (12 week intern)
I’ve been in this Karen hilltribe village 180 km west of Chiang Mai for three weeks now. I first saw this research internship posting back home in Canada about two weeks before an already booked flight across the world, in one of the months post-university when I just wanted to get out and adventure. I read about Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary on the website, read the blogs, read about elephant tourism in Thailand and looked through pictures and articles. I then changed all my travel plans to make this internship fit into a vague travel itinerary.
A science background and field experience helped me land this amazing opportunity in the forests of Thailand, and the elephants and people become like family very quickly! I’ve been collecting foraging data on this small herd of semi-wild elephants which is a very rewarding experience. There is remarkably few published papers about the eating habits of wild Asian elephants, and fewer still on Thailand’s wild elephants. Essentially this means that there is a lot of gaps in our knowledge base. In two weeks, we’ve collected over 60 plant species that consist of vines, trees, shrubs, and grasses, with new species being collected each day.
We hike out almost every morning to see the elephants. One morning we crossed a river and they were straight up a mountain; another time we traversed rice fields for the better part of an hour to find them on the forest peripheries; a different time we bush-wacked through grasses and thorny trees following the elephants trail (more like a rabbit trail – the elephants certainly have more prowess than us measly humans) as it curved around and up a different mountain. Each day is different and interesting. Each day shows so many different facets of these elephant’s personalities and the complexity of their diets.
What’s exciting is this is just the beginning of KSES. It’s such a great partnership between the co-founders, the workers, the mahouts, and the villagers. Almost everyone in the community has a role in this project and all the volunteers and visitors have a great experience. It’s very unique to see elephants forage in their natural habitat, having the freedom to choose what they want to eat and when. It’s a great opportunity to learn about Asian elephants and the real elephant situation in Thailand.