About us

The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation is a Thai registered not for profit originally set up in 2005 in cooperation with Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort.

We are located in the far north of Thailand where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet (The Golden Triangle).

GTAEF strongly believes that in an ideal world all elephants would be wild. This is unfortunately not the case, so until we reach that point, GTAEF aims to assist captive elephants, improving their lives and welfare, while also taking part in conservation and wild elephant programs to ensure the
survival of the wild herd.


GTAEF at all times endeavour to ensure that net good is done and that our action in helping one elephant does not adversely affect others.

Rescue elephants

GTAEF rescues elephants, mahouts and families from around Thailand. Many of our elephants come from the streets, but others come from illegal logging camps, trekking camps or elephant shows.

Maintaining world class standards of care

GTAEF rents the elephants from the mahout, provides fodder, a forest environment and shelter as well as vet care for the elephant; along with food, accommodation, health care and insurance for the mahouts and their families.

Improving conditions for captive elephants

GTAEF also cooperates with the government and other organisations in ‘bigger picture’
projects throughout South East Asia in the hopes of improving conditions for captive elephants as well the remaining wild population.


  • To help elephants that cannot help themselves; to assist those that find themselves, through abuse or circumstance, unable to provide and maintain an income for themselves, their mahouts and their families.
  • Through our working elephants, we aim to show that it is possible for elephants and mahouts to earn a living while maintaining world class standards of care and not resorting to dangerous or demeaning work such as street begging, illegal logging or inappropriate elephant shows.
  • To provide a controllable and safe environment for publishing research scientists and veterinarians to perform ethical and non-invasive research into Asian elephants, their behaviour and intelligence, with the goal of learning how to better look after them in captivity and protect them in the wild.
  • To work with conservationists to protect those elephants still living wild in Thailand and to develop projects that allow them to live comfortably in the forests. We also work with the human communities surrounding the elephant territory to minimise the ill will felt by those whose livelihoods are compromised by Human Elephant Conflict.


Asian elephants are listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which means they have had at least a 50% decrease in population in the last three generations. Asian elephants face vast habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as poaching for ivory and conflict with humans.

The current best estimates for Thailand’s remaining wild population are around 2000-4000 individuals.


Years of observation and interviews with many major players have taught us that this market is
driving the capture of elephants from the wild. We’ve learned that to buy one elephant, for
whatever reason, is to have a negative impact on conservation and on welfare for all elephants by causing another elephant to be taken from the wild and to be trained – often in the most brutal fashion – to work for humans.

Asian elephants in captivity also face many other problems.

Historically, the vast majority of Thailand’s captive elephants and mahouts were employed in the logging industry where they were used to haul trees out of dense jungle. When logging was banned in 1989, thousands of captive Thai elephants and their mahouts became un-employed. Elephants are expensive to feed and to keep, especially if you want to do it properly. Elephants eat around 10% of their body weight a day, for a full grown elephant that can be over 200kgs of food. So the mahouts faced no other option than to find alternative employment.

Many elephant owners resorted to taking their charges into big cities in order to put themselves in touch with people who would pay to touch, feed or play with their elephant. This is illegal in Thailand and while there are racketeers making big bucks from elephant hire to do this a large proportion of the ‘city mahouts’ are from traditional elephant owning families and truly love their elephants, but can think of no other option.

Walking in cities is undoubtedly not the life for an elephant and the situation is made worse by the tendency to split mothers and babies well before natural weaning age, the baby will survive but have problems later in life through lack of calcium at the developmental stage. City elephants face a life of inadequate nutrition, health problems from pollution and walking on hot concrete all day as well as the constant threat of being hit by traffic.

Other elephants work in Illegal logging camps, these elephants face extremely dangerous conditions, one in which elephants are constantly over worked and under fed and accidents frequently occur. As well as this, illegal logging camps are often located near or on the border with neighbouring countries where there are many landmines, which elephants can step on causing horrific injury.

While some tourist trekking camps provide adequate standards of care and fodder for their elephants, limit the workloads of their elephants, provide green spaces for the elephants to rest in and operate in a sustainable fashion it is safe to say that most do not.

In some camps we have witnessed elephants working up to 10 hours a day without a break, the mahouts eat lunch on their eles, only to be chained in a non-forest rest area at night.
With the tourism industry increasing and with an ‘elephant experience’ of some kind on everyone’s itinerary it is important to show to tourists, mahouts and camp owners alike that guest activities can be provided in such a way that all stakeholders are satisfied.

Mass tourism remains the only income source available to keep the majority of Thailand’s captive elephants fed and so cannot be abandoned or boycotted but it is important to work with business and mahout communities to modify welfare and sustainability aspects.