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Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – BLES: Changing the future of Thailand’s elephants

“We give them back what should have always been theirs in the first place - their freedom.”   

Founded by Katherine Connor, Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary – BLES is a rescue and sanctuary in Sukhothai, Thailand, devoted to creating an elephant safe haven.  

The King Living Foundation has partnered with this incredible sanctuary since 2021, helping to support Katherine and BLES to create a better daily life and future for the elephants of Thailand.  

We spoke with Katherine about her life at BLES, what makes BLES unique, and her plans and hopes for the future.   



Daily life at BLES


For Katherine and her team, every day at BLES is an adventure full of the spontaneity that comes with working with a variety of rescued animals that all have their own needs and wants.  

Playfully referring to some of her elephants as the ‘Gossip Girls’, Katherine shares what it’s like caring for elephants at the sanctuary.  

“Every morning, we perform medical treatments on our World-Famous Gossip Girls. Treatments can sometimes take up to two hours because we follow The Girl's lead and work at their pace.”  

“We never rush them. It is imperative that the medical area and the whole experience is peaceful and nothing but positive for them".  

After treatments, Katherine and her team will spend the day walking through the forest, searching for other rescued elephants.  

"Every day, our elephants are walked out to different release areas - sometimes, we find them, and sometimes, we don't! The walks can last all day.”  

Once the walks are complete, closures are cleaned, locally grown supplementary feed is collected, and the elephants, other rescue animals and the sanctuary's guests are fed – Katherine has her human family to consider.  

"When dinner is finished, we drive everyone back to the guest house, and then I have to make dinner for my family (humans!) and get them ready for bed. If the Wi-Fi is strong enough and I am still awake, I try to work through emails and update our social media platforms.” 



Creating a safe haven


Every elephant welcomed into the BLES family is treated as an individual – there is no blueprint approach to how they are cared for.  

"We recognize them as individuals and respond to their needs in an intimate and personal way.” Katherine shares.  

“Each elephant recovers in their own time and in their own way. Some of them form instant friendships with our other elephants. Some of them form a deep bond with their mahout.”  

Each elephant is empowered with the confidence to make their own decisions – for Katherine it is essential they feel free and safe.   

“Our job is to love them and give them what we all need to feel safe – understanding, protection, space. We support and surround them with compassion, even when they are lashing out and pushing boundaries.”   

The two newest arrivals to the sanctuary are Dok Lak and Mare Ladee, who Katherine says have breathed life into BLES.  

“Dok Lak is sixty years old, and she is the calmer of the pair. Mare Ladee is boisterous and playful and gets herself into all kinds of trouble!”  

“We are so immensely proud to have successfully rescued these two beautiful girls and couldn't have done it without the generous support of The King Living Foundation.” 



Memorable moments


As one can imagine, life at BLES is filled with many magical moments, and for Katherine, one memory that stands out is from 2014 when Naamfon – meaning rainwater – was rescued.  

“In preparation for Naamfon's arrival, a huge heart-shaped fruit feast awaited her – this is a BLES tradition that every new arrival is welcomed into their forever home with a gourmet feast of every fruit you can imagine!”  

Katherine recalled seeing Naamfon looking overwhelmed, confused, and trying to understand what was happening.   

“My two eldest children, Hope and Noah, placed a pineapple into Naamfon's trunk and playfully told her to eat it. As we sat on the ground looking up at her, we noticed a single tear rolling down her cheek... She looked so peaceful.” Katherine recalled.  

“I believe Naamfon was living in that moment and letting go of all the pain from her past. I believe for the first time in her long and hard life, Naamfon was happy.”  

For Katherine, every day is an opportunity to watch the elephants rediscover themselves and their natural instincts.  

“They learn that they can play in the dirt, and nobody is going to stop them. They pull down a huge tree and then wait... but nothing happens – no shouting, no beating, no punishment.”  

“I love them so deeply and feel truly blessed to share this lifetime with them.” 




Taking in new rescues


Katherine has been rescuing elephants for 21 years and has always prioritised creating positive relationships with the elephant owners during this time.   

“I have always made a point to treat the owners respectfully and fairly,” Katherine says.  

“This has achieved an impeccable reputation for BLES in the elephant world, and when the owners are ready to retire and want their elephants to retire retrospectively, BLES is normally their first point of call.”  

Taking in rescues is never as simple as finding and purchasing an elephant – Katherine needs to consider the owner's reason for selling and their future plans.  

“It is well known and understood that BLES will not buy an elephant if the funds we give are used to purchase a younger, stronger elephant to replace the one that has been retired.”  

“BLES wants to break the cycle of captivity, not contribute to it, and the elephant owners of Thailand know this.”  

If a new rescue is chosen and purchased, BLES can begin planning and gathering all the information – and funding – required.   

“Once a fair price is agreed on, we launch a fundraising campaign on our social media platforms and do everything we can to secure the funds asap.”   

“We meet with the owners in person, assess the elephant's physical and mental health and start looking at logistics, legal paperwork, and will confirm the elephant is microchipped.” 



The BLES difference


BLES has consistently been named the best elephant sanctuary in Thailand and the world.   

Some of the reasons BLES is so unique are the family environment that Katherine fosters, low guest numbers, and the inspiration behind its founding – baby Boon Lott.  

“We are a family. My mahouts, housekeepers, driver, maintenance man – they are all my family, and most of them have been with me on this incredible journey since the beginning. Every single member of the BLES Team is from our local community.”  

The level of care and effort to treat each elephant as unique is the same as Katherine's philosophy on treating each human at BLES.  

“We promote unconditional acceptance of every individual. As a true sanctuary, we ensure that everyone feels seen, heard, loved, protected, and respected.”  

BLES is also one of the first facilities in Asia to promote a stand-back, hands-off approach to elephant tourism.   

“We keep our guest numbers low to allow for a personal, intimate, and peaceful experience. It is my wish that when people arrive at BLES, they immediately feel like they are a part of our family.” 



Visiting BLES


When guests visit BLES, they know they will not feed, touch, or bathe the elephants. Instead, they will walk into the forest to find and observe the elephants in their stunning natural habitat.   

“Some days, we hike for several kilometers through thick forest. We believe seeing elephants should be hard work – they should not be on show. At BLES, we live on elephant time – meaning there is no schedule.”  

“There are no time restraints, and there is no rush. We let the elephants lead us and give them space, ensuring wellbeing and maximising safety for all.”  

For Katherine and BLES, their greatest hope is that guests will go home and become informed ambassadors, advocating for compassionate change for elephants and all other wildlife currently trapped in the tourist industry. 



Looking to the future


By protecting the forest and planting more trees every year, BLES not only secures land for rescued elephants, but for a variety of animals that are in serious threat of extinction due to deforestation.    

“Our main long-term goal for BLES is to protect and preserve the forest and all of nature. If we cannot save the forest, we can’t rescue more elephants. It's an alarming realization, but it really is that simple.”    

For Katherine, the mission also involves empowering the local community, providing employment, income, advice, support, protection, and friendship.   

“BLES is an eternal circle of healing. It is not the humans, at the top of the pyramid, saving the world – here at BLES, the elephants heal the humans, the dogs comfort the broken, the cats befriend the lonely – everyone at BLES (two, three, and four-legged) is a hero in their own right.” 


To learn more, read Katherine's inspiring story, visit the BLES website or follow BLES on Facebook and Instagram. 

To make a donation, visit the BLES support page.