Real Volunteering with Elephants that Doesn’t Break the Bank: Interview with the Elephant Whisperer Lek

Now – I am not what you call Paul Bunyan, manual labor kind of guy, not unless running from tuk tuks on a daily basis and lifting Christmas trees during the holidays  count as labor intensive. No sir. And truth be told, I am more than a skeptic when it comes to volunteer organizations, as if you have spent anytime searching the web, you will undoubtedly have stumbled upon many amazing volunteering opportunities (washing turtles, nurturing baby kola bears, Swedish oil massage applicator…no wait that was in Dumb and Dumber), but when you dig a bit deeper into the “amazing, life changing opportunity” you come to find some course fee or volunteer fee of $3,000 bucks tied to it in a country that costs $5 a day to live….ummmm.

So let’s try something a bit different huh. You can peruse this list of cheap gap year destinations too.


So what is Elephant Nature Park? Video Interview with the Founder Lek

What a minute? Why am I being charged to volunteer?


This was one of the major issues I had when I first started this website. I did the typical Google search thing and found cool job opportunities but most had some fee associated with it. To me, when you are looking for work you should be either A- getting paid, B – interning/volunteering with no payment involved but are getting some kind of experience and maybe all the extras (housing, food, compliments and cuddles etc ). So when I see the mysterious option C show up, that being you pay them a high fee and you work, some alarm bells started ringing. As they should. Mama didn’t raise no fool after all.


Elephant in the wild

The Truth of the Matter.

Here is the deal. With the increase in opportunity for people to travel the world, coupled with more people looking for cool experiences/ways of giving back in the world, so too has spawned the growth of an industry some dub as volun-tourism. This volun-tourism, in a nutshell, is people who volunteer as a part of their vacation. They go to some exotic place, do some good, and get the double bonus of a vacation and giving back in one gesture instead of going to  some resort and drinking yourself into a coma like most Americans on vacation.


What’s so bad about that?

Good question. Well first off, I would ask, where is all this money from the course fee going? A few hundred to cover the costs of sheltering your beautiful self makes sense but some of these organizations fees are so exorbedient I have to throw my bullshit flag.  Some of the these opportunities are offered by Gap Year companies, guising the opportunity has an internship but really they are just tour operators putting make up on the tour. Others are third party organizations that take handling fees with much less of the money going to the organization itself.  Other times, entire volunteering opportunities are created just to rake in these fees and the organization ends up creating more abuse and trouble than doing nothing at all.

two elephants

Enter: and Elephant Nature Park


If you wish to spend a week volunteering with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park, it will cost you about $400.  To some, $400 bucks to spend a week with elephants is nothing, while to others this seems expensive. Well – let me tell you, after spending a week there, you definitely see where your $400 goes.  Half of the money goes to keeping you alive – three (huge) vegetarian meals a day, accommodation (mosquitos free of charge), activities, internet, water…etc.- while the other $200 goes into the funding to feed the 35 elephants (shit, they eat 2 tons a day between them), acquire more land so they can rescue more elephants, and to bring in medicine for the aforementioned lovely elephants.

So in short, if you are looking to donate some time and lift the occasional rock or machete or shovel or you just happened to like handling animal poo, then you would find a good – scam free – opportunity volunteering with Save Elephant at Elephant Nature Park.. And if you are piss poor at working in the field like me, then you can hang out and when you least expect it you will have some one on one time with these awesome animals.


Turner out.

cute elephant


Turner barr

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

  • Save Elephant Foundation
    Posted at 21:23h, 13 May

    Turner, thank you so much for helping to raise awareness about Save Elephant Foundation and the volunteer programs it offers not only at Elephant Nature Park, but its other projects, too. We’re so glad you were able to join us and help spread the word.

  • Annie from France
    Posted at 10:41h, 14 May

    Dear Turner, I tried to watch the interview of Lek but as usual you speak so fast that I have to watch the video several times ……… do you remember me ? we visit the smoking area many times…….my name on facebook is Pelote Delaine….. Congratulations and good luck in your trip around the world……

  • Kevin Kelly
    Posted at 05:58h, 15 May

    Hey Turner, Thanks for the article about Lek and her efforts at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. My son and I volunteered there over our Christmas holiday this past year and loved the whole experience and it was well worth the reasonable costs. I highly recommend it, especially for families. We have pictures of our time there on our travel blog at

    All the best, Kevin

  • Aryn
    Posted at 11:34h, 15 May

    Thanks for breaking down where the money goes! Whenever I see a fee to volunteer I usually say forget it but now I see why there’s a fee!

  • Heidi Wagoner
    Posted at 13:47h, 15 May

    This sounds great. Do you know if they allow children to volunteer as well and if they charge for them? I love elephants! We will have to make our way over there after Europe.

  • Dan Koehl
    Posted at 02:00h, 02 June

    I think that an advice for families to bring their children to interact with elephants at a place that had a very large turnover of elephants (over 70) throughtout the years, has to be combined with a small warning, considering that an avarage of Asias elephants are spreading Tuberculosis. To be on the safe side, dont touch the elephants, dont feed them, and wear some sort of protection masks.

    TB is an airborne lethal disease, which is classified as Zoonosis, it can be transered from elephants to human and back.

    The Elephant Nature Park of course, would like you to be believe that theres no TB risk, but they have never informed about the risk on their website, or asked veterinarys from Lampang or Chiang Mai to come and check their elephants. Learn more:

    It is not known if any of the 16 elephants that died at ENP went through a scientific autopsy:

    USA: According to page 21 of the APHIS manual on Guidelines for controlling TB in elephants: “It is essential that a post-mortem examination be performed on all elephants that die. The examination must inc…lude a thorough search for lesions of tuberculosis regardless of exposure status. Prior to any planned euthanasia of an elephant, trunk washes, blood for serology and any other ancillary tests should be performed regardless of whether or not TB is suspected. In this way, valuable data can be gathered to evaluate the efficacy of the current testing protocol. In the event of a sudden death, collect post-mortem blood and separate serum for other tests.”

    Iin USA today, 2 “elephant sanctuaries” are TB infected,

    in one 9 of the staff has tested positive for TB in one of those sanctuaries: ” In this instance, TB spread to eight employees, though three of them didn’t work directly with the elephant, ”

    With all the best intentions to give families advice how to spend their vacation in Thailand, please at least inform about the medical risks.