• Don't put anything into this block, just add Sticky Item before CMS section.

Meet Katherine Connor: Founder of Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES

At age 21, Katherine Connor booked a flight to Thailand that changed the course of her life. As a young woman who appeared to have everything one could desire – a fashion career, loving fiancé, and home ownership – she chose to rewrite her future.   

Listening to the calls of her heart – that spoke of finding more than weekends at trendy bars and parties – Katherine left for Asia, a continent no one in her family had travelled before.  

“Although I was always the life and soul of every party, deep down in my heart, I knew there had to be more to life and me as a person.”  

Now 42 years old, having lived in Thailand ever since, a woman with great love for elephants doesn't begin to describe Katherine and the life and change she has created.  

We hear about finding a life's purpose – and Katherine's story is no better example of what this truly means. Inspired by this incredible story, the King Living Foundation, has partnered with Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES since 2021.   



A natural passion


Having a childhood passion for elephants, Katherine always knew she would travel the world to meet her favourite animals.  

“My favourite Disney films were Dumbo, Lady and The Tramp, The Lion King... I was just obsessed with elephants and rescuing animals – I was the child that would find injured squirrels or birds, lost dogs, and step over the slugs and snails in the garden.”  

“At 12 years old, I decided to stop eating meat and went hardcore vegan. It was a move that confused my family, as I was the first and only one to ever make this life choice.”   

When a childhood friend showed Katherine photographs of a family holiday to Thailand, she knew she must visit one day too.   

“Thailand was at the top of my list! Thailand was famous for its elephants, and so I decided to travel around the kingdom for four weeks and visit as many elephant facilities as possible.”  

Though Katherine knew she would visit Thailand – she could never have anticipated how this one choice would change her life. 



Learning the truth


When Katherine arrived in Thailand, her main desire was to find the beautiful elephant sanctuaries she had seen in her friend's family photographs.   

But the scenes from the photographs didn't capture the reality she found, and the way elephants were treated. Naturally attuned to emotions around her, Katherine observed the elephant's body language and could feel their emotions in a way other visitors couldn't or perhaps didn’t want to take in.  

“I very quickly realized that something was desperately wrong. Every venue I visited, even the places that labelled themselves as 'sanctuaries', left me feeling empty." Katherine explained.  

“Some stood like statues with their heads hanging low, eyes glazed over, staring at the floor. Others swung their bodies violently from side to side... or would bob their heads over and over again.”  

While Katherine had yet to learn exactly what this meant, she knew something was very wrong and would later learn the elephants were displaying stereotypical behaviour – a coping mechanism to help them through the torture they had endured.  

“I kept travelling around, my heart fuelled with optimism, determined that I would find 'the' place where elephants were allowed to be elephants,” Katherine recalled.  

“As each day passed, my heart broke more... I felt betrayed... I felt let down... But I was acutely aware that none of this was about me. It was about the elephants and how I was going to help them.”   



Change in course


About three weeks into her travels, Katherine visited the elephant hospital in Lampang, Northern Thailand. It was there she spotted a sign with the words 'Baby Elephant' scribbled on it. What then unfolded was life changing.   

“There I stood, 21 years old and thinking I had all the answers... and there he stood. Two months old, born premature, and expected to die within days. In those moments, that turned into hours, something incredible happened to me.” Katherine shares.  

“He, Boon Lott, and his mother, Pang Tong, accepted me. It is difficult to articulate exactly what it was, but I knew, without question, I needed to stay in Thailand. I knew I needed to be with them, and I needed to learn from them.”  

Katherine volunteered at the elephant hospital for two and a half years, where she lived with the mahouts and their families and taught herself Thai – keeping a pen wedged in her ponytail – she would write the phonetics on her arms and repeat the words until they washed away. 



Baby Boon Lott


During the years Katherine volunteered, Boon Lott suffered an accident that left him paralysed and would eventually end his life.   

"For fourteen months, I slept beside him, my arms wrapped around him, and his trunk draped over my waist. Every night, I would give him his bottle, massage his legs, sing lullabies, bathe, soothe, read, and sleep with him."  

Katherine never gave up hope for Boon Lott’s recovery and was prepared to do anything to help him heal.  

“Together with one of the vets at the hospital, I designed the world's first elephant wheelchair. I organised acupuncture and shock therapy sessions, as well as building a hydrotherapy pool for Boon Lott,” Katherine explained.  

“Slowly, he regained strength in his legs, and his tail started moving independently again. Boon Lott started to stand unaided. And then, he started to teach himself how to walk again. He was proving the 'experts' wrong and making history.”



Arrivals and endings


During this time of volunteering, Katherine would meet her future partner of BLES, Anon, who was there for her every step of the way.   

“The elephant hospital takes in cases from all over the country. One evening, a bull arrived that had no skin. He had been trapped in a forest fire and suffered third-degree burns over his entire body.” Katherine explained.  

“His owners, a young (and very handsome!) young guy called Anon and his uncle, a smiley man called Boo Sot, arrived with the bull. Anon would keep Boon Lott and I company during the nights, and I would help him and Boo Sot tend to Somai's wounds. The three of us became a team...”  

Even Though Boon Lott was thriving at this time, he had a second accident and broke his back legs. After more than a year of fighting for his life, Katherine begged the vets to let him go. He was two years and eight months old.   

“In true Boon Lott style, he died on his own terms. He lay in my arms, his head resting on my lap, and as I sat on the floor, cradling his frail body, knowing that I was losing my boy, I promised him that I would keep on fighting.”  

It was a promise that Katherine, fuelled along by Anon who told her to ‘Never forget the promise you made to Boon Lott', held onto. 


Creating BLES


Now great friends Anon and Katherine would talk for hours about their dreams and fears.  

“One evening, Anon asked me what my plan was. Taken aback, I blurted out that I would probably go back to England, find a job, and start my life all over again. Anon was not impressed!” Katherine shared.  

“He reminded me of my promise, and in a heartbeat, Anon said that we should team up and create a retirement home - a sanctuary for the elephants of his village.”   

“Eighteen months later, after relentless hard work and endless fundraising, I moved back to Thailand, and Anon, Boo Sot, and I began building Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary – BLES.  

Wondering where Katherine and BLES are today? Read our article about the BLES mission, visit the BLES website or follow BLES on Facebook and Instagram. 

To make a donation, visit the BLES support page.