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Saengduean Chailert: The Elephant Whisperer of Thailand

Saengduean Chailert: The Elephant Whisperer of Thailand
Saengduean Chailert with Elephants. Image Courtesy of The Save Elephant Foundation

Deep within the emerald embrace of northern Thailand, amidst the echoing calls of gibbons and the rustling of ancient trees, lives a legend. Forget mythical creatures – this legend walks on four sturdy legs, trumpets with joy, and has a human champion named Saengduean Chailert, or Lek for short.

I learned of her story of resilience, defiance, and call to protect these beautiful majestic creatures while flipping through some of the most beautiful images of elephants.

Growing up in a hill tribe village in Thailand, she defied tradition by becoming the only girl from her village to attend school. It was here, surrounded by nature, that her bond with elephants blossomed. Her grandfather, a traditional healer, received a majestic elephant named Thong Kham as a gift. Witnessing the deep connection between them, a spark ignited within Lek – a spark that would one day erupt into a movement.

As Lek matured, she learned harsh reality of the tourism industry with Elephants. These glorious creatures who were revered for their intelligence and strength, were being broken – physically and mentally – to become trekking attractions. Their spirits dimmed, their bodies scarred, these gentle giants were mere money-making machines. Lek did not want to accept this.

Lek's journey began with a quiet rebellion. She started by providing medical care to elephants in remote villages, her gentle touch is like a balm on their wounds. But witnessing the sheer number of injured, neglected, and elderly elephants spurred her to take a bolder step. In the 1990s, defying societal norms and facing resistance from a deeply entrenched industry, Lek embarked on a daring mission – to rescue these magnificent beings.

She created the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in 2023, a sanctuary unlike any other. Here, rescued elephants weren't just provided a safe space; they were given a chance to heal, to roam free in lush forests, and to live with dignity amongst their own kind.

She also started the Save Elephant Foundation, a non-profit organization that championed the cause of Asian elephants on multiple fronts. Educational programs raised awareness about the plight of these creatures, while volunteer opportunities allowed people from all corners of the globe to connect with them and contribute to their well-being.

Captivating documentaries on National Geographic (sorry about the paywall) and BBC (no paywall) have been created to evergreen her work and she has earned prestigious awards like "Hero of Asia" by Time Magazine.

Today, ENP is home to over 200 elephants, each with a unique story etched in their intelligent eyes. Some arrived blind from years of exposure to harsh sunlight, while others bore the scars of physical abuse. Yet, under Lek's care, a remarkable transformation takes place. Watching them frolic in mud pools, bathe in crystal-clear streams, and forge deep bonds with each other is a testament to the power of Lek's unwavering spirit.

I chose to cover Saengduean Chailert as a Beautiful Person today because of my love of elephants and how people who choose to make a different in the world by focusing one thing and doing it really well. Elephants and beautiful, majestic (I know I've used this word many today here, but can you blame me?), intelligent, mysterious, vulnerable, and powerful.

Elephant. Maurice Prendergast. Watercolor, paper. c.1912 - c.1915
Elephant. Maurice Prendergast. Watercolor, paper. c.1912 - c.1915

I hope their grandeur inspires you today.




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