The Surin Project is a unique and innovative concept aimed at improving the living conditions of captive Asian elephants by providing economic sustainability for their owners through responsible volunteer tourism. We work alongside the Gwi community in the Surin Elephant Study Centre located in the village of Ban Tha Klang in the Surin Province in North East Thailand (see map)
The Surin Project’s main focus is to get some of the elephants in the study centre out into more natural surroundings where volunteers can walk alongside them and observe these magnificent creatures acting like elephants should be. This offers the mahouts who own the elephants an alternative form of employment to elephant riding or elephant shows which are the main forms of income for many mahouts in the area to support their elephants and families.
What to Expect
Volunteers coming to the Surin Project should expect to be immersed in the local Gwi culture in the remote village of Ban Tha Klang. Working alongside the mahouts and the local community they will learn more about this unique culture and their relationship with elephants.
Most importantly volunteers will get a chance to go out on daily walks to observe the Surin Project elephants interacting with each other in a more natural setting.
During their stay in the village volunteers can expect an attack on their senses and will see some of the realities of how captive elephants can be used in the area.
The Surin Project is not an elephant sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park, with some considerable differences:
- the land is government-owned, so our ability to build new structures is limited
- The Surin Project does not own or buy any elephants, the elephants are owned by their mahouts, so how they are treated is ultimately not our decision. The mahouts who join the project agree to leave their bullhooks at home and to take part in project activities. However they are free to leave at any time with their elephant. It’s up to us to provide them with enough incentive to stay on the project and support our concept (we can only do this with volunteer support).
- There can be between 150-200 elephants living at the Study Centre, The Surin Project can only support up to 12 elephants at a time.
- Elephants that are not members of the Surin Project can be kept on their chains for most of the day with little or no shade. Many show signs of stress which we call stereotypical behaviour
- Many of the elephants in the area can be used for other forms of elephant tourism in the area such as the local elephant show and elephant riding which we do not support.
- Volunteers may be exposed to a certain amount of suffering during their stay because of these surroundings and can witness the use of the bullhook which many mahouts in the area use to control their elephants.
For many, this may put them off wanting to volunteer here, however, they must remember that with their presence here, they are taking part in something positive, and although it may seem like they can’t do much to help the other elephants in the area they are helping show the mahouts and local community that they want to see a better form of tourism for the elephants. If they don’t see these benefits they will only keep doing what they know
Hopefully, in time as volunteer numbers increase and we show the local mahouts that people are willing to see elephants in this way we will adapt their mindset to be more considerate of the elephant’s welfare and expand our ability to support more elephants and mahouts in this area.