Travellers climb into heavy chairs on their backs, tourists snap pictures of elephants doing headstands, and bus-loads of people applaud as elephants paint self-portraits.
With every working elephant comes a mahout - a person who is responsible for their elephant’s well-being. After logging became illegal in 1989, many elephant owners had no choice but to move to a camp and work their elephants. Often, these workers are underpaid, overworked, and left to live in poverty by wealthy camp owners that refuse to use profits to improve living standards for their mahouts. Throughout her journey with elephants, Katherine has heard countless stories of mahouts having to move far from home only to earn a small percentage of each ride their elephant gives.
BLES is passionate about making it known that the sanctuary’s work is equally about animal welfare as it is about human welfare. With every opportunity to help an elephant in need, there is also an opportunity to help an elephant owner.
BLES is aware that tourist attendance will drastically increase at any facility that has baby elephants on display. This has resulted in the forced breeding of females in camps and the premature separation of baby elephants from their moms. Katherine created BLES to offer retirement to working elephants and a safe home for abused elephants.
We are adamant however, that any money paid to rescue an elephant will not be used to purchase another elephant.
We have to break the cycle and we do this by creating a good relationship with the owner - meeting the extended family and spending time with them - hearing their stories and how they want their lives to change.
Life in a trekking camp is a very miserable experience for everyone.
BLES is unique in this way, because the relationships our team builds with owners looking to sell their elephants are based on trust. We listen to what the owner is looking to do with the money, and we are proud to support owners who have used the funds to build an extension on their home, ensure a comfortable retirement, buy a tractor, pay for their children education or even pay for expensive, life-saving surgery .