On the Expedition
Asian elephants are capable of remarkable cooperation and intelligence when faced with complex tasks. But no matter how clever they are, they can’t solve the problem of their endangered status without your help.
How do elephants remember the location of family members, food and water sources? How do they interact with each other, and people, in and out of their natural environments? With Dr. Joshua Plotnik and his research team, you’ll work to understand elephant behaviour and intelligence. You’ll conduct non-invasive cognition research on elephants cared for in captivity in Chiang Saen, in the Chiang Rai province, and help gain a deeper understanding of elephant behavior. Findings will inform wild elephant management, and the development of human/elephant conflict mitigation strategies that will put elephant needs on a par with those of local communities in Thailand.
You’ll work up close with elephants, collecting behavioral data in cognition experiments, participating with setup, apparatus building, food preparation, and you may also assist mahouts – elephant caretakers – in their daily routines. You’ll collect data, and code videotapes for computer input and analysis. You may be involved in the collection and processing of elephant urine and dung for hormone analysis in a study looking at how environment influences stress in elephants. You will also help with education initiatives for Thai, U.S. and other internationally-based communities.
Meals and Accommodations
You’ll stay in guesthouse accommodation within walking distance of the elephant site, although transport will also be available as required. Single and double rooms with fans or A/C will be available. Beds and bedding is provided, as are mosquito nets upon request. You can get online at an internet cafe in the nearby village.
Hot and cold water showers will also be available, as will conventional western toilets. Traditional Thai-style squat toilets are typical in restaurants and rest stops throughout Thailand, and so volunteers should be flexible about using toilet facilities while on the road.
Your meals will be prepared by local Thai restaurants or shops in advance, and eaten at or near the research site. It will also be arranged for volunteers and research staff to occasionally eat together at nearby restaurants. Preparation, shopping and clean-up by volunteers will be minimal.
Except in large cities, western food is not widely available in Thailand, so volunteers should expect to eat Thai food (rice, noodles, soups, salads etc). Thai cuisine normally consists of either rice-based dishes (with meat, seafood and/or vegetables), or noodle-based dishes. And although often prepared spicy, Thais are accustomed to preparing food for Western palates, and non-spicy versions of most Thai dishes can be prepared. Convenience stores sell some Western snacks and beverages, as well as breads and breakfast pastries.
Vegetarians and vegans can be accommodated, and dairy products don’t typically feature in Thai cuisine.
About the Research Area
The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) research site is located in the Chiang Saen, in the “Golden Triangle”, the area on the Mekong River where the countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge. This is a small tourist town, with local and national museums and souvenir shops. Within an hour's drive south is the city of Chiang Rai, home to a large number of new and old Thai Buddhist temples, shopping markets, and other northern Thai attractions. Hiking trips to nearby hill-tribe villages can be arranged in recreational time, along with Thai cultural talks and local hill-tribe dance demonstrations, and day trips to local orphanages and schools. Beautiful mountain ranges, and Thai royal projects - including the Doi Tung Development Project, a royal project aimed at promoting both sustainable farming and reforestation - are easily visited from the GTAEF site.
Thailand's weather is typically either dry and hot (the dry season, Nov - March), or wet and humid (the monsoon season, Apr – Oct). In the former, the daily temperature can range from 15-40°C with almost no rain, and in the latter, the daily temperature can range from 20-40°C with periods of rain every day. Because work takes place in a jungle environment, insects are plentiful, including mosquitoes. Volunteers are urged to wear insect repellent and sunscreen, and to cover exposed skin.
Thai culture is welcoming, friendly and hospitable, and Thais will often go out of their way to accommodate strangers. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Thailand, and Thai Buddhist customs must be respected by volunteers at all times. Shoes should be removed when entering homes, a Thai person's head should never be touched by a stranger, and feet should never be pointed at others (while sitting, for instance), or used to point at objects. Public displays of affection by couples are not commonly seen (except among the younger generation). English is not widely understood, even in large cities, but project staff members are fluent in English and Thai and most restaurants and markets have basic English menus.