It's Bigger Than Just Us 1

Local chef Pascal Olhats steps up to 
advocate for endangered Asian elephants

I used to think that watching people riding atop elephants looked like great fun. I once saw an elephant painting with his trunk and was astounded at his dexterity. But then I became involved in a philanthropic project with local chef Pascal Olhats and I had to wrap my head around a whole new way of thinking. What we may think of as entertaining or fun actually inflicts great pain and torture on the part of the elephants. And, as Pascal explained, the poachers often kill the adults to steal the baby elephants. It breaks my heart to think of these gentle giants being treated this way.

Pascal’s wife Chris has always been fond of elephants. So, for a special birthday surprise, Pascal took Chris to Thailand to spend a week volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. It was a magical week and every day they went to sleep tired but invigorated at what they had accomplished with the special creatures they were caring for. (Guests can go there for the day or the week for a fee.)

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure to meet Sangdeaun Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She was here to participate in Chef Pascal’s charity event to help raise funds for her sanctuary. The funds raised helped pay for purchasing elephants, young and old, from harmful situations, much needed medicine and doctor’s services (as many are injured) and for food and staffing the nature park.

Sangdeaun Chailert was born in the small village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai. Her nickname is “Lek,” which means “little.” The name is so befitting! She is a petite, gracious lady with a warm smile and a huge heart. During her childhood, she had the opportunity to spend much of her time among many animals. Her grandfather was a shaman (a traditional healer), who not only helped people of his community, but also sick and injured animals that were brought to him for help. She discovered that all animals strive to live well, and Lek became determined to rescue and care for animals that needed help.

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. Lek’s mission to save the Asian elephants continues to expand. She has formed the Save Elephant Foundation and has a dedicated team working tirelessly by her side to protect the Asian elephant.

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 worldwide.

Most days, she can be found at Elephant Nature Park spending time with the rescued herd. 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. She also helps to provide sustainable alternatives to local villages. She maintains magical relationships with the animals she rescues.

Readers can learn more by visiting Lek’s web site for the Save Elephant Foundation at SaveElephant.org. Consider becoming a member or perhaps plan a trip to visit the sanctuary.  Donations can be made to The Serengeti Foundation here in the U.S., as it holds a 501c3 non-profit status and 100% of donations will go to this cause. Donations can be made via credit card on their secure web site, or can be sent by check and mailed to: The Serengeti Foundation, 19100 Hamilton Pool Road, Dripping Springs, TX 78620. The web site is Serengetiusa.com/donate.html. (Select “Elephant Nature Park” charity).

This is a tragic situation, not only in Thailand, but in Africa and other places around the globe. Lek is truly making a difference, and we celebrate and honor her efforts and that of her dedicated staff. We hope to continue to raise awareness of this plight and reinforce that cruelty to animals is NOT acceptable. Let’s save these gentle giants from harm’s way.