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About

Save Elephant Foundation

Lek Chailert at Elephant Nature ParkSave Elephant Foundation is a Thai non–profit organization 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

Our Founder

Sangduen “Lek” Chailert was born in 1962 in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Her love for elephants began when her grandfather, a traditional healer, received a baby elephant as payment for saving a mans life. Lek would spend many hours with her newfound friend, named Tongkum (Golden One), resulting in a passion that would shape the rest of her life, as well as the lives of others.

With a love and respect for her country’s national symbol, and the knowledge that they were becoming endangered, Lek began advocating for the rights and welfare of the Asian elephants in Thailand. In an industry steeped in tradition, advocating for positive change in the ways domestic and wild Asian elephants are treated has not been an easy battle. However, with hard work and determination her voice is now internationally recognized. In addition to several documentaries produced by National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and the BBC, Lek has also won many honorary awards.

Lek Chailert, Founder of Save Elephant Foundation

Lek’s mission continues to affect others as her voice is heard throughout the world. Her story and voice have made an impact in the minds of all who give their lives to animal welfare and conservation. Lek’s mission to save the Asian elephants continues to expand. She has formed the Save Elephant Foundation and a dedicated team works tirelessly by her side to protect the Asian elephant.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited Lek to Washington, DC in 2010 to honor her as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation. But, the accolades do not end there. Lek was named one of Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia for her work in conservation in 2005 and the Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet” in 2001.

Lek has earned two honorary degrees from Rajabaht Chiang Mai University – a PhD in Sustainability and Conservation and a PhD in Veterinary Science. Finally, the National Geographic documentary Vanishing Giants, highlighting Lek’s work with the Asian elephant, was recognized by the Humane Society of the United States with the Genesis Award in 2003.

Today, Lek continues to be at the forefront of elephant (and other animal rights causes), raising international awareness and encouraging other countries in the region to follow her lead, as well as helping provide sustainable alternatives to local villages. At the same time, she maintains special relationships with the animals she rescues. Most days, she can be found at Elephant Nature Park spending time with the rescued herd.