Maew Suriya, the founder of Samui Elephant Haven, gives an insight into his personal journey that led to the creation of this extraordinary reserve for rescued elephants.
“At the age of seven, some 30 years ago, my parents moved from the Surin Province to run a circus. Even from this young age, it was my dream to create a sanctuary for elephants – a real haven for them to live out their lives happily and roaming free.
For many generations, my family has worked with elephants, and it was always my vision to give elephants a happy life. I trained as an accountant but always felt that something was missing. I was fortunate enough to visit Lek Chailert at Elephant Nature Park; this is where I believed that my dream was possible. That visit was the inspiration behind Samui Elephant Haven.
We opened Samui Elephant Haven in August 2018 and since opening, we have achieved so much. To date, we have rescued 14 elephants from across Thailand and from the tourist-trekking industry. The elephants living at Samui Elephant Haven previously endured stressful lives. With that life behind them, these lucky elephants are now free to express their natural instincts without fear – interacting with each other in beautiful natural surroundings, foraging on native plants, and playing together in their custom-built and natural pools and mud pits. Visitors to the sanctuary, experience meaningful encounters with these magnificent animals in an environment where they are respected, and revered.
I chose love over money
Samui Elephant Haven does not offer bathing with elephants; not only is this behaviour cruel, but it doesn’t allow the elephants to play without restrictions, as they would in nature.
A day at the Haven is always busy. Elephants eat for up to 18 hours a day, so a lot of food has to be provided. As herbivores, elephants consume grasses, tree foliage, bark, twigs, and other vegetation daily; not to mention bananas, juicy watermelon and coconuts. An elephant will drink almost 200 litres of water a day – that is like a bathtub full of water! With this amount of food, you can imagine the amount of cleaning that goes with it. The mahouts spend their days with their elephants ensuring that they are safe and cared for. Restaurant staff prepare delicious vegetarian lunches and dinners for our hungry guests. Drivers provide transfers to and from the hotels and other lodging facilities. Rescues are planned, enclosures are built, elephant behaviours are studied, and footage for social media is taken — all of this plus the usual commitments of running a busy office.
At Samui Elephant Haven, we offer two tours a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I try to welcome all of the guests personally. We serve refreshments upon arrival, and there is a little talk about the safety aspects that guests need to be aware of, a short educational video which gives an insight into unethical trekking and other practices and the reason why we rescue so many gentle giants. The guides provide detailed explanations to elephant behaviour and chat with the guests; they are always available to answer any questions.
By merely visiting Samui Elephant Haven, guests are helping. Visitors enable us to continue running the sanctuary and rescuing more elephants. We have a gift shop where guests can purchase items that have been ethically sourced and produced on the island. Our local community is an excellent support to us. Beautiful bins were donated by Samui Art Bins; a volunteer group that makes disposing of trash fun and very colourful!
My plan and dream is to buy land so that we have complete security for our ever-growing herds; to continue to educate people about ethical tourism and to say “no” to trekking and bathing and to always continue to rescue poorly treated elephants.
We are motivated by a desire to free elephants from a hard life working in antiquated forms of elephant tourism and provide a caring home where the elephants can recover from the trauma of their past, and live in nature with peace and dignity.
The inspiration for this project comes from the work of renowned elephant rights advocate, Sangduean ‘Lek’ Chailert. Guided by Lek’s ‘Saddle Off’ model, promoted by Save Elephant Foundation and Asian Elephant Projects; we have embraced this evolution in elephant tourism.
Guests visiting Samui Elephant Haven have the opportunity of feeding these gentle giants and observing their spontaneous behaviour. Elephants play together in their pools and mud pit. They communicate with each other using both sounds and their trunks, forage for food and roam through the tropical grounds. Our goal is simple – to provide a happy, loving home for our herd of rescued elephants where visitors can come and experience the majesty of these remarkable animals in nature.”