One of STEF’s trustees, Jake Thaotad, is currently based in Thailand and keeps a very close eye on the development work at Ban Ton Sae.

On a recent visit, we asked him for his opinion on how the work is going and what were the future plans.

Jake said: “This has been an exciting but challenging project working against the clock to get as much done before the rainy season arrives. The team has done so well clearing all of the rubber trees and, with the help of Lee Sambrook, we have now got a very clear idea of how to lay out the land in an ecofriendly way so it is best suited to our elephants. We have had to change our plans as the work progressed as although the natural pools appear ideal for the elephants to bathe and relax only one of these has proved suitable for elephant use. Fortunately this is the largest and widest, with the best surrounding access for the elephants and will provide an excellent focus for visitors to watch these wonderful animals bathing.”

With Jake able to speak both Thai and English fluently, his regular visits to the site have been invaluable to direct the Thai workers and to ensure each part of the plan’s execution is undertaken correctly and to our ecosensitive specification. One aspect of this has been the planting of the new trees, as well as making sure the soil is prepared and ready for the turf to be laid. One of our labourers has been working on this land for over 40 years, so understands the soil behaviour and the effects of the seasonal weather on the land.

Soon our thoughts must turn to the education and visitor centres, which we plan to build on stilts so elevating the buildings to provide protection against the effects of the heavy rains and to give a more natural look. We need a lot more funding for this next phase, so if you can help us a bit, please do and click here.

It’s been great to talk to Jake on site this week, and you can read more about him and his passion for the work of STEF here.

Please do come back next week, to read another blog post on the new site’s progress!

Having structured the land, and then forming the slopes and pathways of STEF, our next step was to lay the turf on the site. It is now late April, and in order to prepare the site for the heavy rain of the monsoon season in the months ahead, and to avoid soil erosion on the slopes and banks from the water runoff, over 9000 square metres of turf needs to be laid to bind the soil together – assisted by the newly planted trees.

The technique of creating pasture and grassland on previously cultivated ground is somewhat different in Thailand compared to the West. Instead of using grass seed, or long strips of turf, here the turf is cut down small square pieces, and these are then fixed to the soil with a wooden skewer. With grass seed, the heavy rain of the monsoon would saturate the water content of the soil, leading to water runoff and the seeds would simply be washed away and lost altogether. The first batch of turf was planted on the bank east of the first pool, working backwards towards the elephant pool. The work was completed by the wonderful and hardworking couple who have been working on this land for over 40 years, under the supervision of Jake and some of his colleagues.

Whilst the turf gives the soil structure, it is also planted for a number of other reasons. As the welfare of the elephants at STEF must be the first priority, it is important that we structure the site to have widespread areas where the elephants can naturally graze. Natural grazing is a key factor in maintaining a high level of welfare as it gives the elephant choice and diversity of food, as well as allowing the elephant to use the full range of their trunk’s abilities.

It has been tough work planting the turf, but worth the effort as we are really starting to visualise what this superb ecologically sensitive re-creation will  look like and where the elephants will roam. Here is Ollie’s 41-second video of the new-laid turf:

You can help us make it happen. Please just click here.

Please come back next week to read another blog post on our next endeavours on site!

The southern region of Thailand, where the Ban Ton Sae STEF site is located, really has only two seasons – the wet and the dry. These seasons do not occur at the same time on the east and west sides of the southern peninsula. On the west coast, where STEF is located, the southwest monsoon brings rain and often heavy storms from April through to October, while on the east coast the most rain falls between September and December. Overall the southern parts of Thailand get by far the most rain, with around 2,400 millimetres every year, compared with the central and northern regions of Thailand, both of which get around 1,400 millimetres.

Because of this, before the next stage of laying the turf, it has been necessary to equip the site with sufficient irrigation and drainage. As the weather is naturally unpredictable, the irrigation was installed as a backup for any prolonged dry spell.

It was vital to select the correct sized water pump and this was then connected to a water supply linked to source of the pools. These pipes were then directed up and along the slope by the pools to where the turf is planted, with specially-designed holes to regulate the release of water along the pipe. With the drainage, we have to ensure the site does not flood as this could lead to erosion of the loose, freshly-moved soil, and damage to the turf by over saturating it. We had 25 sections of large concrete drainage pipes delivered and installed in order to prevent this soil run-off and flooding.

Now we are close to the rainy season, it is crucial that we prepare the site properly to ensure our hard work up up to now is not just washed away…

If you can help us with this practical and essential infrastructure work, please do. The elephants deserve the best. You can donate if you click here.

But do come back next week to read about the next stage of progress on the Ban Ton Sae site!

Southern Thailand Elephant Foundation (STEF) is delighted to announce the appointment as the charity’s Technical Advisor, of Lee Sambrook, one of the world’s leading elephant authorities.

Lee SambrookLee is very well known throughout the elephant world and has a lifetime’s experience working with elephants and other large mammals. He worked in two zoos before starting work at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the early 1980s. After seven years working with the elephants at London Zoo, he moved to Western Australia as Head Elephant Trainer at Perth Zoo, where he spent five years before returning to the UK as Team leader of Elephants at Whipsnade Zoo, where he had 11 Asian elephants under his care. He is particularly proud that ten elephant calves were born during his 21 years at ZSL. He is or has been a consultant for several zoos around the world.

Chairman of Trustees, Dr Andrew Higgins, said: “I have been fortunate to know Lee for several years and I am delighted that the Trustees have decided to appoint him as Technical Adviser. Lee’s advice, guidance and a lifetime’s experience will ensure all of our projects are undertaken with the best interests of the elephant in mind”.

Already Lee has spent several weeks at the new Ban Ton Sae site (pictured here with Jakrapob Thaotad, STEF Trustee and Project Manager) working hard to ensure the ground is cleared and prepared for the housing of elephants that are in need of care and retirement.