Bringing Nwon Back to BLES

“Home is a place where your feet might leave, but your heart will always be”….

Nwon is a sixty year old bull, who is blind in one eye. On the 1st December 2015, he was one of four bulls from our local village of Baan Tuek, to come to BLES, as part of a retirement plan. You can read all about how the four bulls, Nwon, Ngor, Mr Moo and Sompord, came to be at BLES here –


When the owners of the four bulls approached BLES and asked for our help, we knew we had to act quickly. There was no time to launch a fundraiser to buy the bulls, as their combined worth would have been a substantial amount to raise. It would have been unrealistic to raise such an ambitious amount and risky to expect the owners to wait for the funds to be raised, before bringing their bulls to BLES.

So, BLES came to an agreement with the owners, that the bulls would be leased on a permanent basis. The agreement was verbal and as I have stated before, this is how we have always and will always handle negotiations – based on trust and the belief that we are all working together for the good of the animals. I know there will be many people out there who will find this approach laughable and I understand why in your world, this management style would not be acceptable. However, the fact is, in our rural community, this is how business has always been conducted.

This method has never failed me, until very recently…

I was shocked and appalled to my core, when the owner of Nwon came to me on the morning of the 28th September 2016, to tell me that people were coming to collect Nwon and take him to Surin. I had to ask her to repeat herself three times, as I just couldnt comprehend what she was saying. After almost 12 months of BLES caring and providing for Nwon, she was going back on her word and even worse – she went behind our backs and sold Nwon.

I was confused, furious and devastated – how could she be so deceitful and not give a single thought to Nwon’s welfare? I see now, that she was only thinking about money. We will never know why she acted the way she did, but in a way, to me, none of that matters anymore, because after our most powerful fundraising campaign to date, Nwon is back at BLES – he is home.

I left BLES with my amazing team of mahouts at 4am. We were all in the one truck and it was such a bumpy ride! We laughed and chatted as the night sky faded away and the sun started to rise and I knew we were all feeling the same emotions – pride and excitement. I kept looking over at Phi Nit, who beamed back at me every time he caught my eye. He was so animated and I couldnt wait for him to be reunited with Nwon again.

It took us 16 hours to get to Surin. We were achey and exhausted, but eager to see our boy. We walked out, through the small village, towards a grassy area. Nwon was there, secured beside a lake and he looked well. I had been so nervous as we neared Surin, wondering what kind of state Nwon would be in. Worrying that he would be wounded… I was so relieved to see Nwon look strong, calm and content. His owners had taken good care of him and there was not a single injury or scar on him.

Phi Nit walked straight up to Nwon and wrapped his arms around Nwon’s front leg. He held on to him for several minutes and as I watched him with tears in my eyes, I realised he was crying too. Phi Nit then rubbed Nwon down and kept reaching up to Nwon’s face, talking to him the entire time. Nwon, who had been happily eating, froze and then started smelling Phi Nit and purring. He shook his head and roared and it was one of the most spectacular sights. Nwon remembered his old friend, Phi Nit and was clearly very happy to see him. Phi Nit walked towards me, wiping big tears from his eyes and thanked me for bringing Nwon home. He told me he loved him very much and would never leave his side… I hadnt realised until that moment, that the Bring Nwon Back to BLES campaign, wasnt just about bringing Nwon back home, it was about bringing back two friends, who had been cruelly separated… The love that Phi Nit has for Nwon is beautiful.

It took us all day to get the paperwork sorted out. Once everything was in place, the owners prepared a big dinner for us to celebrate Nwon’s journey back home.

Nwon walked on to the truck easily and he remained calm and patient throughout the 14 hour drive back to BLES.

As we were driving up the road to BLES, I opened the window, to smell the morning air. The sun was rising and I looked up at Nwon behind me and he was also smelling the air. I could feel his deep purrs and a rush of excitement shot through my body – he knew he was home!!


We were greeted by lots of trumpets from the other elephants and as soon as Nwon was unloaded from the truck, he started grazing and dusting himself down. Phi Nit then led him to the hose, so he could have a cooling drink. Nwon’s trunk was high in the air again and I knew exactly what he was thinking – “Where are my girls?”


We had prepared a huge welcome home buffet for Nwon and as soon as he started to enjoy it, Pang Suai and Pang Noi came hurriedly down the hill and greeted their old friend with lots of gentle touches and purrs. The three of them stood, shoulder to shoulder, eating all the different fruits that had been laid out in a heart shape for them.

I sat on the grass watching them and once again found myself wiping away tears. Tears of pride, relief, joy and exhaustion. This was an epic and emotional journey. From the moment I announced Nwon’s departure from BLES, to launching the fundraiser, to driving through the night to Surin, to seeing Phi Nit and Nwon being reunited, to being in the grass, at BLES watching Nwon live like a real elephant again… Every sleepless night, every critical comment, every stress filled minute – it was ALL worth it. I love what I do and will never stop fighting for a compassionate world.

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I can not thank everyone who played a part in bringing Nwon home to BLES enough. We would never have been able to liberate Nwon without you and your incredible support. Once again, the BLES family has proved what can be accomplished when a community of kind hearted and like minded people, come together. I am so proud of you all. I am so proud of Phi Nit, but most of all, I am so, so, so, proud of our beautiful old boy, Nwon.

Welcome home darling boy… We are your forever home now, your sanctuary and you are so loved xx



Sweet Dreams, Sweet Sontaya…

Once again, I am sitting here broken-hearted. Our sweet old girl, Sontaya, who’s health had started to decline in recent weeks, has passed away.


Sontaya was such a gentle, sweet and loving soul. Her wisdom and grace, radiated from her beautiful, wrinkled (and hairy) face and everyone who had the honour of being in her presence, fell deeply in love with her.

We rescued Sontaya from a busy tourist camp in Pattaya, back in May 2016. Sontaya was thin and spent her days walking in circles, carrying heavy tourists on her protruding back bone. The nights did not provide much relief for Sontaya, as she was tied to a stake in the ground, on a very short chain, surrounded by piles of trash and burning dung and nothing to stare at but the numerous building sites and skyscrapers that litter the city of Pattaya.


When we were contacted by the owners, it was clear that they loved her very much and wanted to do the right thing by Sontaya and retire her to BLES. We set about raising the funds and over 300 people donated towards saving Sontaya –

The elephant world was smitten with Sontaya and her rescue was a huge celebration –

Sontaya was with us for five months. One of the hardest realities that BLES has to come to terms with every time we rescue an elderly elephant, is that they probably will not be with us for very long. This is exactly why we are 100% committed to ensuring every single day that passes, is filled with freedom, friendship, peace, respect and love.


Every single day with Sontaya was a gift.

Once again, we have been reminded that it isn’t about the length of time the elephants have with us… The most important thing, is that they are with us. That they get to live at least a small part of their life as they always should have. That they get to rediscover themselves and know what it is to be an elephant before they leave this world. This world, that has done so wrong by them… BLES is a sanctuary, but it is also my apology to the elephants. The first thing I say to an elephant that we find working in the tourism industry is, “I am so sorry” I founded BLES because I wanted to represent the human race and show the elephants how incredibly sorry we were for all we had done to them – snatching them from the wild, breaking their spirits, putting them to work, exploiting them and grinding them to death – just to name a few of the shameful things humans have done to elephants over the years….


I had been away from BLES for two days on business and on the morning I was due back, I had frantic messages from Sontaya’s mahout, Dom, asking me to call. I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong with Sontaya and jumped in the car and started driving home. I spoke to David and Phi Sot, who said through tears, that Sontaya was weak and clearly letting go. I burst in to tears, told the driver to hurry and started praying for Sontaya.

As soon as I arrived at BLES, I went to Sontaya’s side. She was lying peacefully on the grass and there were no signs of her being stressed or struggling. The mahouts had rigged up some shade for her and I sat with her, rubbing my hands over her hollow temples, her kind face and down her soft trunk, whispering to her to let go. I told her how loved she was, how sorry I was and told her again, to let go… Sontaya took a deep breath and then did just that – she let go.


We were all with her when she passed. Dom, her devoted and now heartbroken mahout, Phi Sot, our head mahout, David, my assistant and myself – we sat on the grass, surrounded by nature, surrounding Sontaya with as much love and respect as we could. She left this world knowing she was adored and appreciated and I think that is what we would ask for in our final moments of life.

Sontaya has been buried on the hill, behind Naamfon and Sao Noi. We sprinkled flowers petals in to her grave and over her body and Dom laid out an elaborate fruit feast for our darling Sontaya.


The funeral was so moving and so fitting for our sweet old girl. As the monks chanted, our tears were kissed in sympathy by raindrops. As I sat, breathing in the smell of the rain, I closed my eyes and visualised Sontaya walking through the thick, long grass before us. Despite my tears and my heartache, I smiled, because at long last, Sontaya was truly free.


Walk on Sontaya: Walk through the fields and forests and be free. Thank you for allowing us to be just a small piece of your long life. We will love you forever and I will think of you everyday, until the day we are reunited, as I watch the sunset over BLES.


Sleep well sweet girl… Sweet dreams Sontaya xx










I do not have the words….

“You never know how strong you really are, until being strong is the only choice you have”…

I am at a total loss for words right now.

I can not believe this.

I am confused, upset and angry – very, very, angry.

On the 1st December 2015, BLES welcomed four beautiful bulls in to our family. The bulls, Mr Moo, Sompord, Ngor and Nwon, were all local boys who’s owners could not afford to keep them anymore. The owners wanted their bulls retired and wanted them to live out the rest of their lives, enjoying freedom with us here at BLES –

At least, this is what we were told.

There really is no easy way of sharing this news, so I am just going to be honest and announce that Nwon is no longer with us. Despite us working hard to maintain good and open relations, Nwon’s owners deceitfully and selfishly went behind our backs and sold him.

The owner did not even have the decency to tell the mahout that had cared for Nwon for the past eight years and we are stunned by her lack of respect and ability to cheat.

Those of you who know me, will know that I always try to see the best in people and try to see the good in every lesson, no matter how awful and trying it may be. This time, however, I am so mad. I can not believe that to this woman, Nwon meant nothing more than a lump sum of money.

The past ten months have been incredible. Each of the bulls have added so much diversity and strength to our rescued elephant family. It has taken them all different lengths of time to adjust and relax around our females and it has brought us all so much joy to watch them rediscover themselves. Nwon, was slow to integrate. He was eventually taken in by Pang Suai and Pang Noi and these last few months have been beyond joyful, watching the three of them freely and naturally interact with each other and bond.


Of course, I am proud of all our elephants, but Nwon was so captivating and impressive. He had this intimidating air around him that had me infatuated. In just a few months, he had let go of his infamous aggressive nature and life of shackles. With the help of his faithful mahout, Phi Nit and his new found friends, Pang Suai and Pang Noi,  Nwon was emerging as a calm, strong and confident bull.

We loved Nwon – No. We love love Nwon and are genuinely heartbroken by this rude and totally unexpected departure. We have the contact information of his new owners and we have every intention of keeping in touch with them.

I am very aware that I am now going to have to deal with all your frustration and all I can do is accept the inevitable criticism and questions. Trusting people and believing they want the best for their animals might seem like a crazy notion to many of you, but this is how I have always managed BLES and despite this disappointing development, I will continue to conduct every future rescue, respectfully and with faith that we can all be trusted to be honest and open with each other. I refuse to change my principles, based on the behaviour of one hollow hearted human.

Since this sudden turn of events, we have spoken to the owners of the other three bulls, who assure us they have no intention of removing their bulls from BLES. I feel confident in their commitment to our partnership and feel positive about the future for them all.

We are planning on visiting Nwon as soon as we can and I will share an update, even though it will be upsetting…

I am so sorry for all of you. I am so sorry for Pang Suai and Pang Noi. I am so sorry for the BLES family and in particular, Phi Nit, who has now lost his job. Most of all, I am sorry Nwon. I wish there was a way to let you know how much we adored you and how devastated we are at all of this. If your owner had been honest with us, we could have saved you…. I will never turn my back on you and I have hope that you will come back to us again one day… Be strong beautiful boy – BE STRONG xx






Progress = Success!


Nepal is a diverse and dynamic country and I have just returned from yet another life altering experience there.


The Kingdom of Nepal is home to Mount Everest, The highest point in the world. The land of the brave Gurkha soldiers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and origin to the world’s greatest mountaineers, the Sherpas. Nepal is also where some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, reside. It is rich with wildlife: It is home to 2% of all flowering plants in the world, 848 species of birds, 167 species of mammals, 500 species of butterfly families, 600 indigenous plant families and 319 exotic species of orchids.

This was my third trip to Nepal and my second to the eco friendly lodge, Tiger Tops.

Tiger Tops was first founded in the early 1960’s, with a focus on nature conservation. Many changes and improvements have taken place over the past forty plus years, but the underlining ethos of responsible tourism and nature conservation, established by the late A.V. Jim Edwards and Dr Chuck McDougal, has remained central to every development put in place to date –

Elephant Aid International – A Carol Buckley Project, has been partnering with Tiger Tops for the past four months, to help improve the welfare of the 14 resident elephants. In that short space of time, all 14 elephants now live completely chain free. Riding on the back of the elephants has now stopped and the use of bull hooks, ceased. These changes are substantial, powerfully positive and should be applauded by us all.

It is not easy to create change, particularly when it involves culture, traditions and language barriers – this is something I know a lot about!! Elephants are also not easy to manage. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have elephants in captivity at all. However, I think we are all very aware that this world of ours, as beautiful as it is, is broken and far from ideal.

I was excited to see the changes implemented at Tiger Tops and was endlessly grateful to Carol Buckley for hosting her very first foot care workshop there, to share her experience and knowledge on elephant foot care management. Attending the workshop opened the door for me to travel and see the changes for myself.


Carol is a champion, in every sense of the word. I feel honoured to call her my friend and am constantly inspired by her drive, determination and dedication to elephant welfare. Carol leads by example and thanks to her diplomatic nature, she now has thousands of followers from all around the world, including NGOs, governments and communities.


The workshop was phenomenal. From the delicious vegan meals, to the welcoming Tiger Tops staff, the stunning surroundings, the calm (and calming) elephants, the sweet mahouts, the wonderful women joining the workshop, the rich wildlife, the friendly local community and the skills I was able to learn – I can not fault a single thing!


Our days started early (5am) and with a steaming hot cup of coffee (or green tea) delivered with a warm smile to our bedroom doors. Most mornings we walked for 2km, through the jungle, down to the Narayani River, to cut grass for the elephants. As we worked alongside the mahouts, cutting and gathering the grass, the elephants either played in the river or grazed. The elephants were free to behave naturally and were clearly very happy, which was not only incredible to witness, but was all the motivation we needed to work up a sweat!


After a belly filling breakfast of scrambled tofu, and ‘over night oats’, we walked down to the elephant camp where the elephants roamed freely in their chain free corrals, created by Elephant Aid International –


Each habitat area is five acres and holds three or four elephants, who have formed strong friendship groups. The mahouts do a sterling job of maintaining the fences and keeping the habitats clean and it is awe-inspiring how they have embraced the recent changes put in place.

Guided by Carol and the mahouts, we set to work on the elephant’s feet. Maintaining healthy feet in captive elephants is one of the most important, yet most difficult tasks for elephant carers across the globe. Foot health has become a serious issue for elephants living in captivity and it is now believed that poor foot health is the biggest cause of death for captive elephants. Inactivity, poor husbandry practices, too much time spent on short chains, can cause a long list of painful and life threatening problems. Cracked nails can quickly lead to infection and then osteomyelitis, which is irreversible, not to mention agonising for the elephant.  If ignored, a cracked toe nail can cause the toe bones to disintegrate. This is normally followed by the elephant’s physical collapse and inevitable death.

Carol was a tolerant teacher and shared her years of experience with us generously. It was amazing to be able to learn these life saving skills and as I sat, straddled over an elephant’s back foot, rasp in hand, carefully filing down an overgrown nail, I took a moment to breath it all in. The elephants really were incredibly patient and calm with us. The mahouts were always on hand to feed treats to the elephants, rewarding them for being so good natured. Between us all, elephants included, we worked well together. The energy was steady, calm and the results were beyond rewarding.


Most days, we headed back down to the river, where we sat watching the elephants play, until the sun set. This time was so special and healing to us all. As I watched the elephants roll in the water, it dawned on me that Kristjan Edwards and his loyal team of naturalists and mahouts at Tiger Tops, are singlehandedly leading the way for captive elephant welfare. These 14 elephants have not been ‘rescued’ and removed from camps, transported across the county to live in sanctuary. These lucky elephants have been able to remain within their friendship groups, with their faithful mahouts, in their familiar home and this is EXACTLY the change we are all striving for.


Tiger Tops are proving that mahouts can earn a living without forcing elephants to entertain tourists. This might sound obvious to you and me, but this is, believe it or not, a myth that has been started by a group of anti sanctuary activists, right here in Thailand!

Tiger Tops is not a sanctuary: It is a shining example of how elephant welfare, when prioritised, can in turn improve the welfare of mahouts and provide an even richer experience to travellers wanting to spend time with elephants.


I will forever treasure the memories made at Tiger Tops and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to make new, life long friends – Namaste to you all xx






Celebrating Nature’s Greatest Masterpiece – The Elephant

Today is World Elephant Day – a day to honour and respect all that it means to be elephant. But what exactly does this mean ?

Elephants should be able to make their own choices in life. They should be in charge of where they want to go and what they want to do. They should have access to endless amounts of natural fodder and should be protected by their family or friendship groups. They should be free of human invasion and they should, very simply, be happy.


There are estimated to be 2000-4000 captive elephants in living in Thailand today. The majority of these elephants work in tourism, performing in shows, giving rides, posing for photos…. Most of these elephants do not have access to a natural or healthy diet. A number of these elephants spend their days tethered on a short chain to a post, standing in rancid puddles of their own urine, surrounded by piles of old dung and trash and have nothing but sky-high hotels and shopping plazas to look at. Many of these elephants stereotype, limp, pace and display aggressive behaviour and I think it is about time more people are asking WHY??

We live in a very privileged society. We have access to limitless information, literally at our fingertips. We can Google search any single thought that drifts in to our head and this is why I am left, day after day, frustrated and confused.

I travel the beautiful Kingdom of Thailand extensively, researching and gathering documentation on the captive elephant situation. I am always left feeling let down. Not let down by the camps or even by the owners of the camps or mahouts of the elephants. My disappointment is directed at the tourists and the thoughtless, selfish way they scramble on to the backs of the elephants, laugh and take photographs of the calves performing their gymnastic displays and walk past the elephants as they swing from side to side out of desperation. I can not fathom how someone travelling to Thailand would not do their research and read all the well thought out blogs, articles and posts that are so readily available on the internet and I honestly feel that there is no excuse in today’s world, for not knowing how damaging your fifteen minute ride or thirty minute show is for these elephants.

Where you spend your money matters and really does make a difference. On this day – World Elephant Day, I ask you to PLEASE think twice about using elephants, tigers, horses, monkeys, etc for your personal pleasure, for your selfie, for your fifteen minutes of fun. Please take the time to find out exactly how your actions affect these animals who are generally kept in appalling conditions, because there are so many eco and ele friendly projects out there, that can offer you a meaningful, unique and safe experience that ensures the wellbeing of everyone – you and the elephant.


Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES has been striving forward in our mission to provide true sanctuary for all the animals in our care, since our inception ten years ago. Here at BLES, our seventeen elephants live peacefully and freely and thrive in our care. We have an expert team of mahouts who share a combined passion, wealth of knowledge, hands on experience and deep understanding of humane elephant management. On this World Elephant Day, I want to celebrate each and every one of our mahouts, because without them and their devotion and dedication, our elephants would not be able to be what they were born to be – elephants.

Our BLESele family has been enjoying spending long, lazy days grazing in the forested land BLES has protected for them. All the recent storms have ensured a plentiful supply of lush foliage for them to feast on and lots of muddy pools for them to splash in.


There is no greater joy than watching one of our elephants wander through the forest, snapping off branches and stopping only to have a good scratch on a tree, before they soak their feet in the stream and spend hours throwing thick, wet mud all over their body. Our elephants do not have a care in the world and this is how we wish all captive elephants could live….  By working together, sharing knowledge, raising awareness and leading by example – I believe all captive elephant CAN live like this.

As I end this entry, I wonder how long it will take for people to realise that if it is wrong to sit on top of an elephant, then it is just as wrong to sit under one. Elephants are not here for our ego boosting exercises or personal gain. They are not here to serve us in any way, shape or form. Elephants are here, walking this earth, to simply and beautifully, be.

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Saying Farewell to Sweet Sao Noi…

There is such an intense and overwhelming ache in my heart right now. It consumes my entire chest and sits, stagnant in my stomach, along with the bundle of knots that have been increasing in size over the past few days…

Life can seem so unfair at times and I have found myself spinning in a non stop cycle of confusion and frustration to relief and understanding.

Here at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), we pride ourselves on taking in elderly elephants and giving them back what should have always been theirs – their freedom, their dignity, their right to chose… We cherish every moment of discovery as the elephants regain their strength and recover from the trauma of working in the tourism industry. Each elephant reacts to their retirement differently. Some of them form firm friendships, some of them focus on eating and replenishing their exhausted bodies, some of them explore every inch of our forested land and walk several miles each day… it can be an emotional rollercoaster walking side by side with our elephants as they go from strength to strength. All of us wish more than anything that their time with us will be long, that their days will be many and their lives will go on and on.

Sadly, this is not always how it works.

Sometimes, when we watch our fragile new arrivals take their first few shaky steps of freedom, we burst with pride for them. Yet, at the same time we share a silent sadness, because we all know that despite our tireless efforts, expert care and endless amounts of love, these beautiful old and oh so wise souls, will not be with us for very long.


This was the case for our most recent rescue, Sao Noi. Her skeletal body told the unthinkable horror stories from her past that none of us wanted to hear. Her tired eyes were filled with haunting shadows that tore at your soul. But, her smile, sweet, warm and gentle, reminded us that no matter how incredibly tough life seems at times, there is always hope and there is always BLES.

Sao Noi’s health has been a big concern for us and we have kept her on round the clock care since she arrived just over one month ago now. She has blown us away with her inner strength and determination to live every day as if it were her last and now, as I sit here, typing about her passing, I wonder if she knew, more than we did, that her days on this earth were coming to an end.

Sao Noi loved being out in the forest. She would explore every little bit, of every bush, every tree, every puddle and field. She loved the company of people and would often approach us, just to be close to us. Sao Noi also loved the company of her own kind, Boon Thong and Permpoon being two of her closest friends. Sao Noi loved her food and would make quick work of the healthy options we offered her. She loved to smother herself in thick mud and she LOVED a good scratch!

Sao Noi loved her life and we loved watching her live every meaningful moment.

Sao Noi has taught us that the true meaning of contentment, is living, breathing and feeling every single moment. Being in the moment and embracing what it brings….

These past few days have been some of the most emotionally exhausting for the BLES family. We have all been hands on, supporting Sao Noi in her moments of need and doing everything we possibly could to make her as comfortable as possible. She stood so paitently when the vets from TECC came to administer emergency IV fluids and she trusted in us so whole heartedly when we were hoisting her back on to her feet, after she had collapsed.


The moment she passed from this world on to the next, will always be etched in the depths of my heart. With her eyes closed, she let out a deep and long purr… I sat with her, stroking her and told her over and over how very loved she was. I closed my eyes and listened to everything she was listening to. The playful songs of the birds, the rythum of the raindrops, the gentle breeze – all we could hear, as we lay on the ground, were the sounds of nature.


I am so proud of the easy passing Sao Noi made. I am grateful that we were able to watch her thrive and I am thankful for every precious moment we shared. My heart is full of thanks for my mahouts and their genuine compassion and incredible dedication to Sao Noi’s wellbeing. As always, I am indebted to you, our wonderful supporters around the world who made the rescue of Soa Noi happen. I am so appreciative to Sao Noi’s previous owner for letting her go.


We held a beautiful ceremony in celebration of Sao Noi’s long life. The head monks from our local temples came and blessed her body and then we buried Sao Noi in the forest, beside beautiful Naamfon, who passed away in October of last year.


We all made offerings of fruit and flowers and Phi Sot, our head mahout, covered Sao Noi’s eyes with a small towel, as he didn’t want the dirt to spoil her pretty eyes. As he lay the towel down, he touched her cheek and told her to go and find Somai. He told her that Somai would take care of her.


Once the digger truck had finished covering Sao Noi’s body, Phi Gom, Sao Noi’s mahout, planted grass and pineapple heads in a circle for her. Even though the time they had spent together was short, the impact Sao Noi made on Phi Gom was profound. Wiping away tears, he told us that he would never forget her sweet smile.


None of us will ever be able to foget Sao Noi and the joy she brought to our lives. Although my tears are still falling, I sit here and smile, as I imagine her walking through the long grass, together with Somai, Naamfon and all the other souls we have been blessed to share our world with. I miss her so much, but I am also filled with a sense of relief for Sao Noi. She is no longer trapped in this life that wore down her body and broke her spirit. She is well and truly, free….. God bless her beautiful being.







Let me start this long awaited entry off with a bit of back tracking… Just four weeks ago, BLES welcomed Sontaya in to our ever growing family. Beautiful, old, worn out and depressed, BLES supporters from around the world, rallied round and helped us save Sontaya from a tourism camp in Pattaya where she had been used to carry tourists around in a heavy metal chair, on her boney back.  Giving these rides to tourists can literally cripple an elephant. The combined weight of the chair, plus three humans on the back or neck is unimaginable. Foot problems are common, not to mention painful and are often left untreated. The elephants are forced to work on, through their pain and misery…


You can read all about the rescue of Sontaya here: – –

Sontaya’s story is all too familiar and sadly in Thailand there are thousands of elephants exploited and over worked, just like she was. As an internationally recognised organisation, leading the way in elephant welfare, BLES strives to make a positive impact to the lives of as many elephants as possible. We do this in various ways, such as educating tourists travelling through Thailand, working together with camp owners to implement more humane conditions, building relationships with mahouts throughout the country and ALWAYS leading by example.

We meet many elephants when we are on the road and during the rescue of Sontaya, we met another very special, but very sad elephant. She was emaciated and exhausted. We were told not to approach her as she was aggressive and we were also told repeatedly that she was not for sale.


Her name was Sao Noi, which means Little Girl. In her sixties, she stood in a makeshift shack, chained up next to Sontaya. She stared at the people walking by her, ignoring her, as if she was pleading for some attention. It was heart breaking to watch, but when we left the camp that day, I just knew we would see her again. I couldn’t shake the image of her skeletal body standing like a statue, from my mind. Not a single day went by without my thoughts drifting to Sao Noi. Each night I would look up to the stars and ask the Universe to take care of her. Well, my prayers were heard and answered –  it wasnt long before we were contacted about rescuing her!


The BLES team quickly jumped in to action. We launched a fundraiser and called on all of our incredible supporters to help us raise the funds for the rescue of Sao Noi. 100% of the money needed was raised in an impressive two days and there was such an incredible energy around BLES. We were so excited about being able to help Sao Noi. We had only spent a brief period with her at the camp, the day we rescued Sontaya, but she touched us all profoundly. She is the kind of girl you meet once and never forget.


With the funds in hand, The BLES team drove through the night on roads that now feel increasingly familiar. We now have our regular stops and favourite places to catch a bite to eat and even have our very own rescue soundtrack that we all sing along to as we drive! It rained the entire journey, but that didnt stop us from making good time. We arrived in Pattaya in the early hours of the morning and as the sun rose, so did my heart, knowing that we were at last going to release Sao Noi from her miserable existence.

I couldnt wait to see her and tell her that her time had finally come. That she would no longer spend her days, tied on a short chain to the spot, in a wonky shack and having the occasional bundle of food thrown at her feet. After ten long years of serving as a ‘taxi’ elephant, Sao Noi’s owners retired her from giving rides in December. She had been the family elephant for several decades and they were not prepared to let her go, until they saw the transformation of Sao Noi’s stable mate, Sontaya.

The owners had followed Sontaya’s journey back to BLES via our Facebook page and watched in disbelief as Sontaya quickly washed away her aches and pains from camp life and discovered how to forage in the forest, cover herself in mud and socialise with other rescued elephants. Sontaya was transformed within days of arriving at BLES and Sao Noi’s owners were so moved by this, they decided Sao Noi should be allowed the exact same retirement.


Travelling back with Sao Noi was stressful. There were several times we thought her legs would give way from under her. She ate well throughout the journey and remained calm, but at one point, her eyes were rolling and she looked dangerously weak. We persevered on, through the non stop rain. Anon sat in the back of our truck, which had been donated to BLES in the days leading up to the the rescue of Sao Noi, by LUSH North America and kept his hand on her leg the entire way. We made regular stops and wrapped Sao Noi up in a golden, specially made, water and wind proof coat, to keep her fragile body protected from the elements. Anon, sat in his hammock, strung up beside her, without a top on, wearing a huge smile! He rubbed Sao Noi’s legs, to help keep her warm, and fed her grass and peeled bananas to help give her energy. I could see his concern for her all over his face, but I could also see his determination to ensure her safe arrival to BLES.


Twelve hours and many M150s (Red Bull) later, we were home! It was 3am, dark and pouring with rain. The truck reversed towards our loading bay and Sao Noi very slowly and carefully stepped off of the truck and on to BLES ground!  Before she walked in to our quarantine house, Anon bent down to her ankle and removed her chain. There were tears and cheers as we all watched Sao Noi cautiously walk towards the spectacular welcome home buffet that had been prepared for her, by our guests. The quarantine house looked amazing! There were drapes and even tinsel, wrapped around every pillar and post. Signs had been written in Thai and English saying, ‘Welcome home Sao Noi’ and it was obvious that everyone was delighted to be welcoming our new old girl home.


Sao Noi’s buffet was laid out in a heart shape. At first, Sao Noi stared in disbelief at the feast. We changed her coat, as the gold one was wet from the ride and then, ever so daintily, Sao Noi reached down and wrapped her trunk around a mango. She held on to it for several seconds and then slowly put it into her mouth… Her eyes closed as she popped the mango in her mouth and it was clear to us all that after a lifetime of hell, she at last found her heaven.


The next day, Sao Noi had many visitors! Mahouts, housekeepers, my children and some of the elephants made a point of introducing themselves to our new arrival. Even Tong Jai and Mee Chok reached over the bars of the quarantine house to make friends! But there was one elephant in particular that Sao Noi was eagerly waiting to see – Sontaya!

Sontaya swiftly approached Sao Noi, which seemed to startle her! Once she had calmed down and enjoyed a few juicy melons, Sao Noi reached out to her long, lost friend. It was magical watching the two of them, entwine their trunks, purr and rumble, gently trace each other’s bodies with the tips of their trunks and even snuggle together. They shared a basket full of melons and in celebration, Sao Noi started throwing mud everywhere!


Sao Noi walked through the forest, scratching on every tree, kicking up muddy holes and waving leafy branches around. Within hours of arriving at BLES, Sao Noi looked like a completely different elephant. She was free and she knew it.


Early the next morning Sao Noi had collapsed. The BLES mahouts knew exactly what to do and worked together brilliantly and calmly as they prepared the hoist and harnesses. I stayed right by Sao Noi, whispering to her, asking her to trust in us. It is always so frightening when elephants collapse, particularly when it just days after their arrival, because we havent had time to build up their faith in us. Somehow, this is never an issue and they always know we are helping them…


Sao Noi lay on the ground, motionless. Her breathing was laboured and her eyes were rolling. I squeezed her trunk and kept calling her name, ignoring my tears as they splashed on to her gaunt face. I was so impressed by her ability to remain calm, despite all the panicked voices and kept on telling her to be strong.

Once the mahouts had everything in place, we stood around her and started telling her to stand. As we did, some of the mahouts pulled on the hoist and Sao Noi, understanding what she needed to do, heaved her body up as much as she physically could manage. She was sitting on her belly, but kept falling down again. If the mahouts had not been there to keep her upright and support the weight of her head, I dont think she would of made it. We waited a couple of minutes for Sao Noi to regain her strength and tried again. More pulling on the hoist, lots of encouragement from us and an unbelievable inner strength from Sao Noi, got her back on her feet!


The mahouts cheered and clapped. I cried big tears of relief and kept telling her how proud we were of her. She looked dazed, but had a good appetite and we decided to keep the harnesses on her for a couple of hours, until she had fully recovered.

That same day, Sao Noi took herself for a walk through the grass and splashed herself down with fresh, cool water. None of us could believe she had bounced back so quickly. Clearly, there is a lot of life left in that old body yet!


Thank you, to each individual who helped get Sao Noi to BLES. You have given a gift that will never stop giving to this little elephant. Your involvement has ensured the rest of her days are filled with friendship, freedom, forest, peace, love, respect and true sanctuary.

I cant wait to write my next blog, detailing the shenanigans that Sao Noi and Sontaya get up to – I have a sneaky feeling the two of them are going to be quite the pair!

On behalf of all of us here at BLES, thank you for your everlasting and unconditional support.

Thank you for saving Sao Noi xx


Sontaya is Home!

One week ago, we launched a campaign to raise the funds to ‘Save Sontaya’, a beautiful, old elephant, working in the taxing tourism trade. Sontaya was exhausted from giving back-breaking rides to tourists in a camp in Pattaya.


We reached out to you and asked you to share Sontaya’s story and the response was phenomenal! Sontaya’s plight was shared over 2000 times and was read by over 100,000 people. The funds for her rescue were raised in just 72 hours – I have said it before and I will say it again – BLES has the BEST supporters!

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The last couple of days have been tiring and very long, but we are beyond ecstatic to share with you that Sontaya has now arrived, safe, sound and very happy at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES!!!

We were on the road for a total of 34 hours. Fourteen of those hours, Anon spent in the truck, beside Sontaya, soothing and reassuring her, as we drove past the high storey buildings and along the heavy traffic of Pattaya, Bangkok and then Sukhothai.


Sontaya was amazing. She remained calm throughout the journey and it was touching to see her turn towards Anon every now and then, almost as if she was asking him where we were taking her. Anon would smile up at her, stroke her face and whisper back words of comfort.


The camp were Sontaya had spent the last two years of her life enslaved to tourism, was hectic. At least 30 coaches pulled in, in the time we spent there. Excited people poured out and ran towards the elephants who were lined up, heavy chairs strapped to their backs, swaying back and forth, hot, hungry, exhausted and stressed.

After speaking with some of the mahouts at the camp, we learnt that the mahouts earn a pathetic 20 Baht per ride. In a typical day, they can give 50 rides. This means that in one working day, which is normally 12 hours, the mahout earns an average of 1000 Baht. The reason I am sharing this information, is to help raise awareness for the mahouts that live in these camps. I honestly feel that the mahouts are just as exploited as the elephants and they are often wrongly accused of abusing the elephants in their care. A lot of these men are unable to provide for their families. They are stuck in a rut and treated appallingly by the wealthy camp owners. The mahouts are given nothing. They are not even provided with homes and so they live, with their wives and children, in squalor. Their shacks are built with old bits of scaffold that they find on building sites. There are no toilet facilities, there is no drainage system in place. Often, the mahouts are not even paid a salary. Their only source of income is the commission they earn from working their elephants into the ground.

It is unacceptable to treat any living being in such a heartless way.

So many people are quick to judge the mahouts and say they are evil for working their elephants so hard… When the mahouts are being forced to live in such impoverishment, unable to provide proper housing for their families, being treated unfairly and inhumanely – how can we expect them to be capable of compassionate care?

 The mahouts that we have dealt with over the years have usually shown a genuine love for their elephants. The owners of Sontaya were so sad to let her go. It was obvious they had fallen very deeply in love with her and I think we all shed a few tears as they blessed her, hugged her and helped us load Sontaya on to the truck.



Sontaya is a special lady. She has such a wise and calm energy. I can not wait to watch her tired old body recover and slowly bulk up. To see her dry and flaky skin heal. To know her wounds are getting better and to observe her in the forest, as she rediscovers how to be an elephant again…


Sontaya is safe. She will now spend the rest of her life free, in the company of our other rescued elephants and under the loving watch of our skilled and experienced mahouts. Sontaya’s life has been changed forever and we could not have saved her without you. Thank you so much, to every single person who shared Sontaya’s story and who made a donation towards her rescue. You have been a part of something incredible and as I sit here, feeling very sleepy after our epic road trip, I am full of energy and gratitude, because now is when the real journey begins – Sontaya’s journey of discovery and recovery. I am so proud to share her journey with you.


Thank you for saving Sontaya xx




Look in to the eyes of this old and exhausted elephant. See the wounds on her face. Watch her as she sways from side to side, chained up next to a busy road. High storey hotels and mountains of trash surrounding her…

Her injuries, aches and pains are ignored by the hundreds of tourists clambering on to the metal chair painfully and precariously balanced on her protruding spine. Every day, this shattered old lady, stands, bracing herself as people climb all over her, as if she was some kind of scaffold. She carries them around in a circle, dragging her sore feet. The route is boring and she is depressed, but nobody sees the tears as they fill her empty eyes and roll down her hollow cheeks…

Sontaya (meaning ‘Twilight’ in Thai) is in her late fifties and this is her reality.

She is one of an estimated 4000 captive elephants in Thailand, forced to endure 12 hour days of ferrying around tourists. Food sources are limited. The heat is intense. Life is hard, but it doesn’t have to be this way….

Two weeks ago, BLES was contacted by the owners of Sontaya. They explained how tough life was for them and their elephant in the camp and asked for help. Tired of living in a constant hand to mouth existence, the owners want to retire from camp life.

BLES has an impeccable reputation within the elephant world and the fact that we are constantly contacted by the owners, wishing for a better life for their old elephants, is testimony to that.

The BLES team recently travelled down to Pattaya, to meet with the owners and examine Sontaya. Everyone agreed that Sontaya’s situation was desperate and she needed immediate retirement.

Elephants constantly collapse from exhaustion. The extreme heat, combined with lack of water, poor diet and gruelling work regimes, can and do kill elephants. Just last week it was reported that a young and relatively healthy elephant collapsed in Cambodia.


We, as a global community, have the power to save Sontaya from such a shocking fate. She has served and suffered enough. Her miserable existence must end.

It is time to SAVE SONTAYA!!


We can change the world for this elephant and her human family – will you help us?

BLES needs to secure a total of 12200 GBP – 17800 USD – 15700 Euro – 625000 Thai Baht and we need to raise the funds ASAP. Every day that passes, is another day in hell for Sontaya.

You can donate via Justgiving –

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via our Paypal page –

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BLES can not save Sontaya without you. Please do not roll your eyes and turn away from this. Please do not shrug your shoulders and shake your head – you have the power to make a positive difference. So please, join us today and help raise awareness for Sontaya and all the other overworked captive elephants in Thailand. Please share Sontaya’s sad story far and wide and help us raise the funds needed. Two minutes out of your day, could change her life – now isn’t that something to feel great about?


Trunks of love and thanks, now and forever – Katherine xx




Ten years ago, I had a dream…

As I sit here and type this blog entry, I shake my head in disbelief. Has it really been TEN whole years?!?!

On the 7th April 2006, I moved to the small, rural village of Baan Tuek. I came here with a suitcase and a dream – to create a true sanctuary for the elephants of Thailand.

I was young and determined. I had spent the previous 18 months in the UK, founding our charity, raising funds, working a full time job and doing everything I could to prepare for my big move to build Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES.

These past ten years have been epic. BLES has gone from strength to strength and when I try and remember all that we have achieved, I feel a mixture of wonder, amazement, pride and gratefulness.

We started off with 10 acres of land and a tent – Anon, me and our four rescued dogs! Everyday we would walk the land and brainstorm ideas. We had a small team of local volunteers who helped dig, build and plant and most of those volunteers are still working with us today!

Slowly, BLES started to take shape. Everyday, I would look around me, embrace the randomness of my new, unknown life and give thanks to the Universe. We worked long, hot days, seven days a week. We were all exhausted, yet energised and excited to be a part of something so very special. Twelve months later, we officially opened BLES to the public and we havent looked back since!

Today, we provide sanctuary to sixteen rescued elephants. We have saved and secured over 750 acres of forested land and established strong, positive relationships with our local communities. BLES is a small drop in the ocean, making huge ripples. It was never my intention to be the biggest or the best. We have never been in competition with anyone and we have never cared for the politics. We avoid the dramas and trouble and instead focus our energies on empowering our mahouts, which in turn, empowers the elephants. BLES does not preach. We do not claim to be better than anyone else. We simply keep our heads down, work hard and stay true to what we believe is right. We lead by example and hope that others will want to join us in our mission to maintain a compassionate world for all the animals.

Ten years of tears, sweat, smiles, worry, work and sacrifice. Ten years of growing, learning, teaching and giving. Ten years of keeping the dream alive and always striving to improve ourselves. BLES is a work in progress and we have many more dreams to realise.


Thank you to all our friends, old and new, for playing a part in this journey – Here’s to the next ten years and all the incredible things we will achieve together!

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