About Us

About Us

We are a UK registered charity dedicated to improving welfare for captive Asian elephants working in the tourist industry, working throughour Asia with a particular focus on Thailand.

Founded by British family Sarah, Felix, Joe and Natasha Blaine,. Having a passion for the natural world and animals in 2008 they travelled to Thailand, part of this trip was spent at a volunteer project for working Elephants, and it was to be an experience that would change their lives forever. They learned so much about Elephants working in the tourist industry in Thailand. Elephant The elephant tourism industry forces mahouts and their families into a desperate poverty trap that few can escape meaning the families are very poor and he welfare of the elephant is therefore compromised. 

in December 2012 we crossed paths with Somsri, a beautiful and very wise Elephant, she was in her 70s and had led a very difficult life. Her owners at the time had only had her for a matter of months and she had spent many weeks of this time at the Elephant clinic in Surin. Before this she had been a street begging Elephant in Hua Hin. When we met her she was dangerously thin and exhausted amongst many other problems. Her tough life had more than caught up with her and we knew we had to help her. Following an email to Katherine Connor at Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary it was agreed that the funds should be raised for her to live out her days in dignity and peace at BLES. She sadly only survived for a month but lived her whole life in that time wrapped in the loving arms of sanctuary.

In her memory we founded Mahouts Elephant Foundation determined to help the thousands of captive elephants still working every day in a relentless tourist industry. 

Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) was created to address the growing needs of elephants and mahouts in the tourism industry. The poor treatment of mahouts and elepahnts in trekking camps is well documentedhowever few realistic alternative livelihoods for mahoutsand their elephants exist. MEF answers this need with the Walking With Elephants safari style model of elephant tourism that we are designing and rolling out in a partnership with a rural village in Northern Thailand. 

We work with a unique model of direct partnership with mahouts, empowering them with the toold they need to support their families and their elephants back in their home village rather than buying their elephants or employing them to work near the big cities. Our pilot project works with Karen hill tribe mahouts in northern Thailand but our model is designed for replication throughout elephant rangeland including Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam where elephant trekking is still widely practiced and in Myanmar where trekking industry professionals are now pushing to create a widespread elepahant riding industry. The need for models like ours is dire to prevent further harm to elephants and help exploited mahouts escape the poverty of the elephant tourism industry.

Mission Statement

Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of Asian elephants. Our mission is to work toward a shift in attitude within tourism that facilitates the return of captive, working elephants to protected forest habitat. MEF works on the ground to develop sustainable, welfare-focused tourist experiences in order to support the needs and livelihoods of the mahouts (traditional elephant keepers), their families and the local communities in coexistence with the needs of the elephants.

Why We Are Needed

 After logging was banned in Thailand in 1989 around 2,000 mahouts found themselves out of work overnight, unable to generate income to take care of their elephants. The rise of commercial elephant tourism quickly followed, and with no regulations in place the industry grew quickly and unchecked, with wealthy elephant camp owners profiting from exploiting elephants and mahouts. The pressure from the tourism industry in Thailand for increased numbers of Asian elephants represents one of the key threats to wild populations of elephants and their habitat. The current model of elephant tourism in Thailand involves entertainment and service to tourists (i.e., circus-style tourism). This has led to illegal trade in wild elephants and elephants existing in intensive, low quality captive environments. The condition in the  tourist camps throughout Thailand vary, but most elephants spend many hours chained and receive a limited, poor diet. They have no regular access to bathing and often develop foot lesions. Captive elephants receive little to no veterinary care. Additionally, some camps force elephants to perform tricks for tourists, which involves condemned training methods. With the loss of free-ranging, wild elephants, their habitat is left open to further exploitation. Unsuspecting tourists are not educated in the impacts of this type of tourism and are in fact led to the misconception that they are helping to protect elephants. Despite the natural awe that is derived from direct interactions with these captive elephants, the typical ecotourist is in reality paying for an inauthentic experience and supporting deleterious practices.

Walking With Elephants

 MEF’s pilot project provides alternative sources of income for mahouts trapped within the elephant camp tourism industry. A key aim of this project is to protect elephants and restore them to conserved habitat. To transition 60+ elephants into native rangeland MEF is working with local Karen hill mahouts in Huay Pakkoot, Thailand. This project will create a competing model for ecotourism that supports an autonomous life for elephants, habitat conservation, and provides a dedicated income source for Karen hill tribe mahouts and their families without compromising the welfare of elephants. This is a pilot project, meant to develop this new model of tourism so that it can be expanded and replicated in other Asian elephant range countries. Myanmar has the greatest number of captive Asian elephants and currently the same process of commercial elephant tourism development is beginning, developing alternative models to bring to Myanmar are vital before Thailand’s destructive elephant tourism is replicated within Myanmar. 


MEF has facilitated the return of 3 previously captive elephants to an 8,000 acre forest protected by the Huay Pakkoot community. MEF fostered a relatiionship with mahouts from the village working in the tourist industry at various trekking camps. Through this relationahip MEF developed a plan that would enable the mahouts to return to their home village and their elephants to return to the protected forest around the village.

MEF has facilitated the natural birth of Sunti, he was born in the forest to a previously captive mother. Sunti represents the first generation of elephants that will permenantly reside in his natural habitat. 

BBC documentary of our walk HOME in August 2015 which was filmed for CBBC's My Life series; Our Big Elephant Rescue. 

International Awareness and Education

MEF works internationally with tour companies and other NGO's to raise awareness to the plight of captive working elephants. Co Founder and CEO Sarah Blaine works in the UK with ABTA and many tour companies also being invited to speak internationally at conferences furthering the mission to vcreate a more welfare focused future for elephants that is also sustainable in the long term for their mahouts and the cmmunities that surround them. 

Organisations and Partnerships

Research partnership with UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation. 

Our team is growing and we with a family focused ethos we are group of determined, passionate, hard working individuals dedicated to improving welfare for captive Asian elephants, thank you for your kind support xx


Sarah, Felix, Joe and Natasha with an elephant

Posted by Sarah Blaine