The rainy season in Thailand varies from region to region and  lasts from May to October. So we are only at the beginning now, but the short, sharp very heavy downpours do limit the construction and infrastructure work that we can do on our jungle site at Ban Ton Sae.  The intensity of the rain is notching up day-by-day as we head into the full swing of Southern Thailand’s monsoon months. Dark clouds appear with a strong warm wind, then a few heavy drops of rain warn you that you have only a few minutes to find cover before the skies open and rain belts down. You may be trapped in your shelter for 20-30 minutes but then the rain stops as suddenly as it started, the clouds disappear and the sun comes out. 

But the sheer volume of water that falls means that the tracks get muddy and waterlogged. Building works require dry conditions for laying foundations and work on the future education and visitor centres, as well as the elephant hospital will have to wait until later in the year.

The sheer magnitude of the rain can sometimes cause a minor flash flood on the site and we must always be mindful of this although the extensive site drainage that we installed earlier in the year should mitigate the risk. Flooding would threaten our newly planted grasses and could also affect the wonderful forest trees we have planted with your generous help,  so Jake is keeping a very close eye on things.

None of this affects elephants whose love of water also really does extend to the rains! Every water drop gives the elephant a cooling break from the relentless humid heat of Thailand’s tropical climate. As shown in the photos, elephants aren’t fazed at all by the monsoon rain, and embrace it with all its force. We can’t wait for STEF’s future elephants to be resting in the Park, enjoying the monsoon season.

However, there is silver lining behind all this rain as it has given us the opportunity to re-focus our attention on sharing STEF’s message of the need to help conserve the Asian elephant, and our STEF fundraising program. If you can help us, please sponsor one of trees at the Ban Ton Sae site to help us get the ecologically sensitive park that we need for the elephants. Just click here to sponsor a tree now!

All of the work on the new site over the past couple of months has somewhat overshadowed the progress of the new trees that we have planted. We’ve so far had great support for our Ban Ton Sae Tree Sponsorship scheme, enabling us to plant a further three more kampu trees (known as “Raintrees”), close to the planned area for the elephant hospital. Promisingly, since we’ve had more extensive irrigation installed up the banks, reaching a greater area of the site, each of these trees has leafed really well, even though the monsoon rains are not yet in full swing.

Elsewhere on site, our planting program has gathered momentum. With further dredging and profiling of the pools about to start, we are now planting water lilies around the edges of two of the pools to assist regeneration and to help reduce algae growth, giving the pool-life shelter from the rain and a place to lay eggs. Jake’s mother, Jinda, is using her gardening expertise to position the water lilies in the right place on the banks to ensure that they thrive.

Jinda’s wise guidance has been influential in helping us choose where to plant the yellow peanut plant (Arachis pintoi), a legume commonly used in pastures for soil improvement and conservation, that will furnish the banks of the entrance to the site with lush, natural greenery, reinforcing our aim of creating an ecologically-sensitive park, both in look and structure. The cuttings were hand-harvested by Jake at a local farm near Phang Nga town (see the photo top left).

We have room for many more trees to protect and enhance the life of our elephant family in the future and to encourage wildlife to settle.

Please help us by sponsoring a tree. Only £25 for a lifetime’s memory. Click here if you would like to be a permanent part of this exciting adventure.

Work on the pools has progressed really well over the last week. The trusty team of five from our chosen contractor, and the fantastic digger driver, speedily completed the planned work on the pools and cascade in just over 2 weeks.

Two of the pools have been dredged and re-profiled to ensure the water is revitalised, replacing the old, stagnant water that has been left untouched for years. This will encourage more pool life to thrive, as well as maintaining the fauna already in the pools like this gourami (we put it back after the photo was taken!).

The purpose of the re-profiling is to create a base around the pools for our planting program, and space for the rocky boulders we will move in to enhance the natural look of the pools. We are determined to maintain the eco-sensitive design of the site to ensure it is in keeping with our ecological ethos.

Creating an attractive area by the pools has the added benefit of providing our future elephants and visitors with a cool area by the water, and shade for them to relax. Visitors will be able to quietly enjoy watching the elephants roaming, feeding and bathing in their natural jungle surroundings.

Re-profiling will also help to reduce the risk of the water stagnation and inhibit growth of algae. The water supply will extend down to the elephant pool, where an outlet has been installed for a hosepipe so the resident mahouts will be able to shower the elephants before they enter the water to prevent the pool becoming silted up – elephants do love to play with dirt and sand, rolling in the mud in the rain, and throwing it on their backs to protect themselves from the sun. (Dirt sprays also stop those pesky mosquitoes and horseflies landing on the skin!)

Whilst there is still a lot to do, this week’s fantastic work on the pools, which are integral to the elephants’ welfare, highlights the excellent progress we are making. You can see more on Ollie’s helpful 24-second video clip:

Can you help us finish the job? Click here to help us get the site in the best condition for the elephants’ welfare….

Over the past few weeks, fourteen new trees have been planted at the STEF site. Each species of tree was carefully chosen to be eco-friendly, to benefit the site for the elephants, and to attract native wildlife.

Across the 16 rie (6.32 acres) that we are developing as an elephant facility (primarily for retired elephants and later for conservation), eight cherry trees have been planted adjacent to the three pools to provide seasonal colour, with their magnificent white and pink flowers adding to the overall beauty of the area while providing vital shade for the elephants.

In the north-east corner of the site, which is at an elevated level, and where the elephants and mahouts will reside, rain trees (Albizia saman) have been planted in order to create large areas of shade, which are important for the elephants to keep cool as they do not sweat through their skin. A rain tree grows in a dome shape with a spread of up to 20-30m wide, as well as reaching some 30m in height, providing the elephants with the perfect umbrella needed in Southern Thailand’s rainy season.

Finally, a Banyan tree was planted in the far north east corner of the site, next to the future location of the elephant hospital. The magnificent Banyan tree is not only beautifully alluring for visitors, and impressive in structure, but has cultural and spiritual significance to the area, as legend has it that a spirit is released when a Banyan tree falls and a replacement needs to be planted for the lost spirit to dwell. Workers at the site have claimed to see the mysterious spirit already and hold the newly planted sapling in high regard. Here is a photo of our existing old Banyan tree and you can just make out Jake’s head at the bottom of the picture standing below it’s vast trunk.

Can you help us with the costs of these wonderful trees that will survive for generations? If you can, please click here.The work of planting these new trees was completed by a team of only five, as well as one of our trustees, Jake, in the scorching heat just before the rainy season.

Ollie has a short video to show how the tree planting is going:

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

It has been another frantic week at the site, with lots of action after numerous Thai contractors visited us to discuss the critical next stage with our Project Manager, Jake. One of the contractors is pictured sitting by a pool in his improvised hammock discussing the plans with Jake!

We have been looking at various ideas for the pools with the safety and comfort of the elephants in mind – remembering these are going to be elderly animals needing easy access.

Concrete is out as it is not in-keeping with the ecological ethos of the project, and we want to create a  natural waterway for the elephants to bathe in. It is important to have a range of substrates to walk on to encourage natural exfoliation of the elephants’ feet.

Here you can see some photos of the pools before work started and a 24 second video clip taken by Ollie

The pools are an essential part of maintaining a high standard of elephant welfare – STEF’s top priority. Not only for drinking, elephants love, and need, to bathe in order to cool down and get some respite from the hot sun. 

Two natural eco-sensitive ramps will be built to give the elephants an easy route into and out of the pool.

The other two pools to the east of the site will be dredged and re-profiled, and a water supply will be connected to allow them to be flushed through with clean water, so they remain fresh and silt-free. There will be a natural cascade of water between the middle pool and elephant pool. Trees growing between the pools will provide vital shade for the elephants around the centre .

This is a very exciting stage of the site’s development and we feel it will be a wonderful feature for our new family of elephants.

You can help us in our work to make this the most exciting home for retired elephants in Southern Thailand through a donation.  As STEF is a UK charity, if you use Gift Aid we can reclaim an extra 25% in tax on every eligible donation made by a UK taxpayer. If you can, please click here to support us.

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

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!

Since completing the clearance of the land, there are some piles of consolidated vegetation debris that still need to be removed. It is now a race against time before the rains come. Having the digger on site is very handy in progressing onto the next stage – forming the structure and topography of the land to create a usable and accessible environment where the elephants can graze and roam. Our Technical Adviser, Lee Sambrook, and Jake are very pleased with progress.

The work has included reducing the gradient and undulation of the land by filling in the ditches, discovered around the land when it was cleared, and regrading the slopes with excess soil, in order to allow the elephants to more easily freely roam. In turn, this also will help the workers when it comes to the next stage on the site – laying the turf.

The digger has been used carefully to design and forge the pathways around the site. This was done in order to route visitors around the site via higher vantage points and the pools to see the elephants grazing and bathing from the best possible view, and to enjoy the planned cascading water between the pools. The paths also neatly direct visitors past the planned sites for the education, visitor and research centres, as well as the hospital, in the order we would like them to. As the paths grant the digger more access to different areas deeper into site, and closer to the pools, in the north west of the the site, this allowed the ground to be flattened using the combination of the digger and a roller to form a base ready to construct the stilts that will be the hospital’s foundations. The lower path by the pools will also permit the digger to get even closer to the pools in order to dredge them, and restructure the edges.

We can just begin to visualise what the ‘new jungle’ will look like and Lee says he can imagine our elephants drinking, bathing and splashing in the pond area. Can you help us finish the work?

Please try and help if you can by clicking here.

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

Well! Thanks to the amazing work of our local Thai team, over 100 rubber trees were removed in three weeks with a workforce of only three. Jake has now had to get the digger in before the rains start in order to clear the land of remaining unwanted vegetation and other plant waste, as well as excavate out the rubber tree stumps, ready to plant our native jungle species of plants and tree. If you can help us with this work please do by clicking here.

One of the first areas to be fully cleared was what will become our visitor’s parking area, with the workers using the cleared area to create their own parking and relaxing area!

To thoroughly clear the land, the work took just over two weeks, a bit longer than we planned due to a small delay with needing to change the digger company to ensure the highest quality of work. In turn, using the digger also ensured that the soil was in the correct condition for the next stage, planting the turf, as the land was cultivated and churned by the digger removing the stumps and roots. 

The digger created piles of the unwanted vegetation and other plant debris, such as fallen branches and decaying rubber and palm leaves. All that is left to do is remove these piles using some form of waste removal, but they needed to dry out before this could be done. In the meantime, the plant waste has attracted a vast array of wildlife, providing an area to nest, including various different species of snake like this wonderful green snake found curled up in the branches of a tree – generally thought to be harmless to humans.

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