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GVI Chiang Mai Update January 2020

Posted: January 13, 2020

In our latest update, we share the sad news about the passing of Khum Suk, a report on our latest fundraising activity, the latest on our recent community engagement, a staff update, an announcement of our newest NSP (National Scholarship Program) participant and a report on our attendance to the AZEC (Asian Zoo Educator’s Conference 2019).

Khum Suk Passes Away, Aged 70

We are deeply saddened by the recent passing of our oldest GVI elephant, Khum Suk, at the age of 70. This was a shock to us all, but we are comforted by the fact that she died peacefully in her sleep in the forest. She was suffering from no health issues prior to her death and was approaching the average life expectancy for Asian Elephants. Fortunately, she has been able to spend her last few years in her natural habitat with her family. She leaves behind daughter, Kah Moon, and granddaughters, Lulu and Lah Lah. Her mahout, Wynn, is obviously devastated, having learned so much from her as a young mahout. The bond between mahout and elephant is more evident to all of us now, more than ever.

We were fortunate and privileged to be invited by the villagers of Huay Pakoot to attend Khum Suk’s funeral, as she was buried in the forest. This was our chance to say goodbye, and we are grateful to the village for allowing us to do so. This also showed us once again how strong the relationship between the Karen people and elephants is, as Khum Suk was mourned just as any human family member would be.

This is the first elephant death in the village, aside from the death of Kah Moon’s calf, Wan Mai, (who passed away from the elephant herpes virus) in living memory for many of the villagers. The elephant’s longevity is impressive and allows for long-lasting relationships with humans. All of the villagers that attended her funeral had been a mahout for Khum Suk at some time in the past or had some relationship with her. By being in their natural habitat, Asian Elephants stand a much greater chance of living the long lives they naturally would when not in captivity. With the passing of Khum Suk, we are more determined than ever to ensure that the elephants she leaves behind continue to live their lives in the forest, where they belong.

We would also like to thank everyone who has fundraised to keep Khum Suk in the forest over the years, as without you, she would not have been able to enjoy her retirement as she deserved to.

It is still too early for us to know how this will affect the small herd Khum Suk was matriarch of. We will be keeping a close eye on Sah Jah, Kah Moon and Lah Lah to see if there is anything we can do to help them through their expected period of mourning. Mourning behaviour has been observed previously when Kah Moon’s calf, Wan Mai, passed away, so our data collection will be integral to us monitoring them. While this is a sad occasion for us all, we are reassured by the belief that Khum Suk’s legacy will live on through her descendants.

Khum Suk’s owner, Dee, had this to say:

Today, my birthday, is a very sad day. Kham Suk, my beloved elephant, sadly went into a deep sleep this morning from which she did not wake. Kham Suk lived until the age of 70 and had not been suffering from any health problems prior to her passing. While her death therefore came as a shock to me, I take comfort from the fact she died peacefully in her sleep, deep in her natural forest habitat, close to her family (daughter and grandchildren). My family regard Kham Suk very much as part of our family too. She has been with us her entire lifetime, her mum before that. Now I still help care for her daughter and granddaughter. While I therefore feel great sadness today, I draw comfort from the fact she lives on through her children and grandchildren – just as the spirit of her ancestors lived on through her, and my mahout ancestors through me. I especially want to thank my nephew, Wynn, who was mahout for Kham Suk, cared for her deeply, and was with her at the time of her passing. He is also very much in my thoughts today.

Khum Suk, with Owner, Dee


Picking up over 700kg (over 1,600lbs) of litter to raise money to keep Baby Lah Lah in the Forest

Our recent fundraising activity has focused primarily on ensuring the newest addition to the GVI Chiang Mai family, baby Lah Lah, can spend her life in the forest and hopefully never know of life in captivity. We recently did a marathon three-day litter pick in the local district to not only do this, but to also clean up the area that elephants like Lah Lah spend their days. Our original target was to pick up 200kg of litter, but we far surpassed that initial goal and over the three days picked up a whopping 738.2kg (1,627lbs)!

We are proud of our success but it also brings home the shocking reality of how much litter we all produce. Our efforts also did not go unnoticed! Our litter-picking activity went viral in regional news within Thailand. In addition, we also received a thank-you from the district governor and will be receiving certificates in recognition of our efforts. Raising environmental awareness was hoped to be one of the benefits of this fundraiser, but this positive press was more than we could have imagined. Everyone’s positive attitude and diligence made for a highly successful event. Thank you to everyone who donated and/or participated from home.

Litter-pick Success


Helping with the Harvest – Volunteers in the Fields

With harvest season upon us, we recently had the opportunity to help the villagers of Huay Pakoot in the fields.
The Karen people have an extremely developed sense of community spirit. As an example, rather than each family harvest their own fields, the villagers come together to help each individual family at a time to efficiently harvest their crops, before moving onto the next.

With extra hands provided by our volunteers, we were able to make the process even more efficient!
This was also yet another great opportunity to engage with the local community and gave our volunteers an insight into the difficult labour of daily agricultural work.

Community Engagement


Staff Update: Goodbye Oli Barnes and Stephanie Hart | Welcome Shae Harris

We recently had to say goodbye to staff member, Oli Barnes, who has returned down south to GVI Thailand Phang Nga after six months here as Field Staff.

Oli was a superb personality to have around base and was great fun to be around for our volunteers. He brought considerable scientific knowledge with him to contribute to the project, leading many of our biodiversity activities.

Moreover, he also played an active role in the community, teaching a class at the local school and English to older members of the village (including our mahouts). His previous experience of other GVI programs was also very helpful to have for our staff team. We will be sad to see Oli go, but we know he is going onto even better things in his new position.

Staff Member, Oli Barnes

We also recently had to say goodbye to staff member, Stephanie Hart. Stephanie was with us for six months, initially as a long-term intern, before being hired on staff placement. She was fantastic in both roles, first of all as a hard-working and enthusiastic intern and secondly as a responsible and approachable staff member.

She was an extremely capable hike leader. Her excitement to see her favourite elephant, Thong Dee, was infectious for all volunteers who she leads to see her. Moreover, she took on the challenge of teaching the village children in Nursery and Anuban – not an easy task!

Staff Member, Stephanie Hart

With our newest addition to the staff team, we are delighted to welcome long-term intern, Shae Harris, as staff on placement for the next three months!

Shae is from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She has a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Conservation Biology from Seattle University, where she was also a division 1 volleyball player.

Shae joined us as an intern because of her passion for wildlife conservation and to gain as much in-field experience as she can. Her other interests include anything outdoors. She is an adventure lover, a keen backpacker and hiker, as well as a sports enthusiast. With her natural leadership qualities and enthusiasm for the program, we look forward to having her on board.

Staff Member, Shae Harris


Our Newest NSP (National Scholarship Program) Participant – Boh Duh Joins

We are delighted to announce that we are now joined by our newest local scholar, Boh Duh. Boh Duh joins us on the National Scholarship Program (NSP), following in the footsteps of Community Liaison, Su. Boh Duh brings with her an impressive level of English and has developed a close relationship with many of us already. She now supports Su in her work, and will be a great help moving forward. It is also a real positive for us to have another female member of the local community have the opportunity to develop their skills and language capability by working with us. It further solidifies the importance of the NSP, which is supported by your donations to the GVI Trust.

Boh Duh (left), with Community Liaison, Su (right)


GVI Chiang Mai Attends the AZEC (Asian Zoo Educator’s Conference) 2019

Staff members Jonathan Berry and Chigu Keller attended the Asian Zoo Educator’s Conference (AZEC) in Chiang Mai. The conference theme was “PLEARN – Play and Learn with Education in Asia through Research for Nature”. We wanted to get new ideas and inspiration to develop our conservation curriculum at the local school, and at the same time it was a great opportunity to network with people from zoos, aquariums and NGOs from all around Asia.

We got a good insight into how zoos and other animal and environment-related institutions are carrying out their conservation education activities and what challenges they are facing.

Some highlights were:
– the creative ways that elephant dung can be used: turn it into paper, organic plant pots or even organic fertilizer
– building habitats for different animals out of various materials
– how to combine teaching lessons with fun games, so that children will remember the differences between Asian and African elephants

A very interesting and thought-provoking event!


Attending AZEC
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