I reached out my hand towards her powerful trunk, to be received with a soft, warm sniff from this incredible being standing in front of me. Her eyes gently peered down to me, curiosity coming across both of us as we looked at each other. “You are so beautiful,” I whispered as I stood next to her, completely in awe of her presence, her wisdom and energy. It was the first time that I had ever met an elephant in her natural habitat in the jungle, not in some captive setting that sadly fell short of replicating anything that was natural to her. It was the first time that I had the pleasure to experience being with such a majestic creature just how nature intended. My life dramatically changed in that moment.
Before that moment, I had been a somewhat ordinary 30-something with a robust life, filled with laughter, love, experiences from around the world and a corporate career, but something was missing. What was missing had been difficult for me to pinpoint over the course of a few years, although I had always known there was something else in the story of my life. I sought an opportunity to be present for something that was bigger than myself.
And that’s when one chapter ended in the story of my life and another started. I have always been a believer in the potential of human beings. At our core, we are unbelievably complex and caring individuals. It is hard when we turn on the evening news and hear about injustice and suffering. It breaks our hearts to see war and pain. And it especially strikes a deep chord within my being when we do not reach our potential. That question of “what if” should always be explored and answered.
So, together with a group of strong and passionate individuals from around the world I had met over the years through previous volunteer work with elephants in Thailand, we set off on an endeavor to answer that question of “what if?” The result was founding Never Forget Elephant Foundation in January, 2019. Never Forget is built on a deep-seated belief that we have not yet reached our potential in how we protect and care for endangered Asian elephants in Thailand. Second to this core mission of helping better the lives of captive elephants, our foundation believes we can reach our potential by joining together as a global community. We are stronger when we take time to compassionately show up to understand what makes us tick and to help solve problems together.
At first glance, the problems captive and wild elephants face in Thailand today are extremely complex. Elephants have been a mainstay in Thai culture for centuries and after logging was banned in the country in 1989, a tourism industry that promotes elephant riding and bathing, street begging, circuses and other venues of exploitation was born. Today, elephants in captivity are physically and mentally controlled with chains, bullhooks, and other devices that take everything away from them that is natural. They are bought and sold from location to location, without much focus on their wellbeing. Elephants are extremely complex, social beings with deep bonds and they need to interact with each other just like we do. Anything that is short of providing an environment where they can thrive just as nature intended is tortuous for them. That is because elephants belong to nature.
And while the politics of the industry can be difficult to navigate given the current environment around elephant ownership, compassion is a universal language. Not only do we need to have compassion for the animals we are responsible to care for, but we need to have compassion for each other. Understanding the issues elephant owners face and respecting their culture, while helping inspire change in a way where elephant welfare is prioritized is at the very core of Never Forget’s mission.
Our foundation is nestled in the mountains at a Karen Hill Tribe village in Northern Thailand, approximately 5 hours from Chiang Mai. Through generous global support, we are lucky to have several elephants supported by our project who are living out their days in their natural habitat. Together with our supporters, we are able to provide physical and mental sanctuary for them in the jungle. We look forward to hosting visitors at our project starting December 2019 where people from around the world can hike with the elephants, connect with each other and the local people, provide service to the community through different programs we have initiated and most of all connect with our potential as a global community in making a positive change for endangered elephants in Thailand. We invite you to check out our website to learn more. If a trip to Thailand is not in the cards for you, we have various ways you can be part of the solution from your hometown. Please check out our WEBSITE for more information. Thank you so very much for your kind support!
Written by Ava Lalancette
Founder and Executive Director, Never Forget Elephant Foundation
EDITOR'S NOTE: I met Ava Lalancette when we both worked for the same Seattle-based company a few years ago. When she helped launched the Never Forget Elephant Foundation, I knew right away that I wanted to share this wonderful story with as many people as possible. I asked Ava to write an essay explaining what the foundation is all about. We're so proud to play even a small part in getting this story told! - Will Bynum
Ava Lalancette is a founder and executive director of the Never Forget Elephant Foundation.
Elephants have been a mainstay in Thai culture for centuries.
The foundation is nestled in the mountains at a Karen Hill Tribe village in Northern Thailand.
Visit neverforgetelephantfoundation.org to learn how you can get involved!