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November 4th, 2020 | By Alicia Silverstone

There are currently fewer than 3,000 elephants left living in the forests of Thailand compared to 4,000 in captivity attributed to the demands of tourism. The plight of the Asian elephant is one much less known than that of its African cousin, but just as dire.

Elephants used for tourist activities such as trekking rides and animal shows face a cruel life after being taken from their family when young. They are trained with bullhooks, deprived of sleep, abused and confined to small spaces. They also live solitary lives even though they need social interaction with other elephants.

Now, due to Covid-19 bringing Thailand’s tourism industry to a grinding halt, elephants are starving because their owners cannot afford to feed them. But an innovative new plan might be a silver lining in this current crisis—a plan that would allow elephants to leave the trekking industry forever.

Since 1996, Lek Chailert, (known as “the elephant whisperer”) has devoted her life to the conservation of elephants and has rescued more than 250 distressed elephants in Thailand and neighboring countries to date. In addition, she is helping feed more than 2,000 elephants across Thailand—Chailert is a true warrior for elephants in need.

In the wake of the global collapse of tourism, relationships have evolved with several traditional elephant camp owners, who have open minds and hearts, looking for a sustainable and ethical model of elephant tourism under Lek’s guidance. As a result, the new Trunks Up Foster Program was born.

In partnership with Chailert, the Trunks Up Foster Program will help support these elephants and the camp owners’ efforts with foster donations going toward food, care and protection for the elephants. In order to receive Trunks Up Foster Program support, elephant camp owners sign and agree to Lek’s designated strict list of requirements and rules regarding the treatment of their elephants during the process. As soon as they join the foster program they must immediately cease to use the elephants for unethical activities.

The rules that the transitioning camp owners must adhere include but are not limited to:

  • Each elephant under the foster program must be retired from labor completely
  • The elephants under the program must receive progressive welfare standards of freedom which includes:
  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from fear and distress
  • Freedom to express normal behavior of an elephant and released from any kind of restraints
  • Elephants within the project will be supervised by Save Elephant Foundation to ensure all welfare standards are strictly adhered to.


An exciting new future is within reach of hundreds of Thailand’s captive elephants—a future unshackled from chains and free from fear of the bullhook. Hundreds of elephants’ lives will be transformed with the public’s support.


  • Individuals can foster an elephant for as little as US$50 year ($5 a month) and join a community of animal lovers advocating for a more sustainable future for Thailand’s elephants!
  • Learn more about the Trunks Up Foster Program with Chok Chai Camp here.
  • Join Trunks Up and be a part of Lek Chailert’s vision for the future.

Photo by Kwaku Alston

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