Baby Elephant at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

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An Elephant Changed My Life

I realize this may sound like exaggerated hyperbole. But, until you’ve come face-to-face with an animal more than twice your height and 75 times your weight, it’s hard to fathom how the experience can alter your perception of humanity’s place in the Universe. 


For me, it happened during the first game drive on the first day of my safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa.


He was a massive bull elephant, feeding on a tree about 75 yards from our open-air safari vehicle in Londolozi Game Reserve. As he noticed us, he slowly turned and ambled our way with a sense of purpose. When he got within 50 yards, I began looking at our guide nervously. By the time he’d reached the 30 yard mark, we asked if perhaps it was time to move the Jeep and give him some space. Solomon assured us that it was fine, as the elephant came closer and closer and closer.

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Lek Chailert, the Elephant Whisperer of Elephant Nature Park

Interview With Lek Chailert

The Elephant Whisperer of Elephant Nature Park


I’ve been a huge fan of elephants all my life, probably dating back to watching The Jungle Book as a boy. Coming face-to-face with a massive bull on safari in South Africa only increased my respect for these majestic creatures. But, as anyone with an interest in wildlife conservation knows, elephants are becoming increasingly endangered, poached for their ivory in Africa and forced into back-breaking labor throughout Asia.


Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, who was born in the remote mountain community of Baan Lao in Northern Thailand in 1962, is an elephant lover who decided to do something about it. After graduating from Chiang Mai University, she opened the 250-acre Elephant Nature Park as a sanctuary for distressed elephants from all over Thailand.  The park’s herd includes disabled, orphaned and blind elephants of all ages, many of which have been rescued from the abusive training involved in the logging, tourism and street begging industries.


We became interested in her work with ENP and Save Elephant Foundation last year, when our friend Diana from D Travels ‘Round went to work at the park. After seeing all of the amazing work Lek and her team of volunteers are doing to protect Asian elephants, a trip to Thailand quickly rose to the top of our 2013 Dream Trip List. Though the trip is still in the planning stages for now, we were delighted to get a chance to talk to Lek about her life’s mission, why travelers shouldn’t ride elephants or pay for elephant paintings, and the challenges facing wildlife conservation in Asia.

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Sun Bear Cub at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah

Sun Bears Are Identified By Crescent-Shaped Patches on Their Chests

A Sneak Peak at the

Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre 

(The following is a guest post by Leyla Giray Alyanak, a former foreign correspondent who belonged to the WWF International management team, and now blogs about her travels at Women on the Road. If you’re a blogger interested in contributing a guest post, please contact Bret Love at


When the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre opens its doors to the public in early 2014, visitors will be treated to a rare sight: 28 of the world’s smallest bears, as curious about us as we are about them.


I was fortunate to get a sneak peek behind the scenes at the BSBCC on a recent visit to the Malaysian state of Sabah. Everything is set: The visitor center and a second bear house are being built, and half a dozen cubs are already clambering over tree trunks and branches, looking around with mischief in their eyes.


Guaranteeing the Sun Bear’s survival in Borneo is one of the main reasons behind the conservation centre, and protecting its rainforest habitat is part of the centre’s mission. Unfortunately, Helarctos malayanus has been under serious threat throughout the rest of its range. In some places, including Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar and Vietnam, it has all but disappeared.

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Two long tail boats- Koh Kradan Beach, Thailand

Two long tail boats- Koh Kradan Beach, Thailand

 Top 5 Thailand National Parks


When you think of Thailand, you probably think of white sandy beaches, tropical cocktails, and crumbling temples. You probably also conjure up images of delicious food and friendly people. Those were certainly the visions I had before I visited, and thankfully they all turned out to be true.


But, after three months of exploration, I realized Thailand has a lot more to offer than *just* gorgeous beaches, temples and people. There are plentiful opportunities for getting up close to nature in some fantastic national parks, where the local wildlife comes front and center to the experience. Here are some of my favorite national parks in Thailand, to give you an idea of what the country has to offer!

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Bornean Orangutans photo via WWF

Bornean Orangutans, photo via WWF


Bornean & Sumatran Orangutans


SPECIES:  Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) & Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)

CURRENT RANGE:  Sumatra (Indonesia) & Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia)

CURRENT THREATS:  Deforestation, poaching

CONSERVATION STATUS:  Critically Endangered (Sumatran) and Endangered (Bornean)

WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM:  All over Malaysia and Indonesia, in the wild or at a rehabilitation center.


What are they?

The word “orangutan” means “man of the forest” in the Malay language… which makes sense when you consider that orangutans share 96.4% of our genes. They have grasping hands at the end of long arms, which allows them to swing through trees from branch to branch. They can grow to be between 1.25 and 1.5 metres tall; females weigh in at 30-50kg, and males at 50-90kg. We can easily identify orangutans by their red hair, but another distinguishing physical feature in males can be specified as “flanged” or “unflanged.”  The flanged males have prominent cheek pads and a throat sack for long calls, whereas the unflanged orangutans do not have such features. They eat wild fruits such as lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and extract water from holes in trees by slurping it up.

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Co-Founded by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel is an ecotourism, nature / wildlife conservation & cultural preservation magazine. More about us.

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Destinations We’ve Covered:

Egypt- Top 5 Eco Attractions
South Africa- Londolozi Game Reserve Safari
South Africa- Kruger National Park
South Africa- South Africa- Zulu Memories
Tanzania- Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

How To Get To Antarctica Without Doing the Drake
The Haunting Beauty of Icebergs
Penguins of Antarctica
Taking the Polar Plunge
Top 5 Eco Attractions in Antarctica
Whales of Antarctica
India- Ranthambhore National Park
Laos- The Pastoral Paradise of Muang Ngoi
Malaysia- Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Nepal- Hiking The Annapurna Circuit
Taiwan- Top 5 Eco Activities in Taipei
Thailand- Top 5 National Parks
Australia- Top 5 Eco Attractions
Australia-Kangaroo Island
New Zealand- Kapiti Island
New Zealand- Tongariro National Park
New Zealand- Top 5 Ecotourism Attractions
Tahiti- First Impressions
Tahiti- Moorea 4x4 Safari Tour
Tahiti- Moorea, Tiki Village Theater
Tahiti- Pearl Diving in Bora Bora
Tahiti- Ruahatu Marine Sanctuary, Bora Bora
Tonga- Eua Island Eco Activities


Churchill- Into the Wild of Manitoba
Churchill- Polar Bear Fight
Churchill- Polar Bear Photo Gallery
Churchill- Tundra Wildlife

America’s Best Volcanoes
AK- Denali National Park
FL- Sanibel Island Eco Activities
FL- Crystal River, Swimming with Manatees
GA- Barnsley Gardens
GA- Top 5 Autumn Activities Around Atlanta
GA- Best Christmas Light Displays
GA- Top 20 Atlanta Christmas Events
GA- Jekyll Island Eco Activities
GA- Weekend in North GA Mountains
GA- Top 5 Eco Attractions in North GA
HI- Hawaii’s Big Island
HI- Hawaiian Mythology
MT- Hiking Glacier National Park
NC- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
NC- Asheville's Green Restaurants Scene
NC- Greensboro Travel Guide
NC- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
NC- Outer Banks Wild Horses
NM- Top 5 Eco Attractions
NY- Going Green in NYC
WV- Outdoor Adventures
Yellowstone- Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone- Lamar Valley
Yellowstone- Grand Canyon & Hayden Valley
Yellowstone- Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone- Lower Geyser Basin

Cancun- Cancun Underwater Museum
Cancun- Mayan Museum of Archaeology
Riviera Maya- Monkeys, Pyramids & Pottery
Riviera Maya- Rio Secreto
Riviera Maya- Tulum & Coba