My love for elephants began in Sri Lanka when I was just 7 years old, and later when I had the opportunity to see wild herds whilst on a family holiday in Kenya. I have been a passionate animal lover from a very young age and first learnt about the dark reality of animal cruelty through a 1986 Born Free membership, and still treasure this original magazine to this day.
from the beginning
My love of animals
I left the UK in 1995 on a mission to see the world and traveled to the USA, spent a year in Australia, and then in 1997 moved to Hong Kong. I worked with some of the worlds largest fashion brands before launching my first clothing brand, Mandarin Orange. Wanting to also help animals, I volunteered for Animals Asia Foundation, where I was inspired by Jill Robinson MBE, to dedicate my life to helping animals.
creating awareness for elephant tourism
changing lives for the elephants
In memory of Tong Teh
April 2010, I visited numerous elephant projects in Thailand and whilst volunteering at The Surin Project in the northeast, I met a stunning elephant named Tong Teh who changed my life direction. Tong Teh had a broken wrist, could no longer work, and he was being starved to death so his ivory could be sold.
At the time, I had lived in Hong Kong for 13 years, but I was unaware of the cruelty inflicted to captive elephants in Asia. I tried to help Tong Teh but with little experience it proved very difficult, and Tong Teh sadly passed away on 24th November 2011.
This lead to me researching elephant tourism in more depth as I couldn’t understand why people would want to ride elephants, watch them perform tricks, play musical instruments, or paint pictures. Tourists are fueling this industry and I wanted to find out why.
I have personally witnessed baby elephants as young as 8 months old without their mothers with deep knife wounds from training, and elephants as old as 80 still giving rides.
In 2011, I launched EARS Asia (Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival foundation) a Hong Kong based charity to promote awareness of elephants in tourism, and in the first year partnered with Nat Geo Wild to air Public Service Announcements throughout Asia.
July 2011, I visited Cambodia on a research trip where I first met a famous elephant named Sombo (Sambo) who had been giving rides at Wat Phnom temple in Phnom Penh for over 20 years. Sombo had a deep abscess in her right foot causing her to limp as she walked. I watched in horror as tourists paid to sit in a chair on Sombo's back for an elephant ride.
Wanting to help this beautiful elephant, I launched a campaign to stop her working and to provide the veterinary care that she urgently needed.
2011 - 2014
A successful letter campaign through EARS Asia to the Cambodian Government brought about global support with media coverage in Asia, the UK, Australia and the USA.
Seven months later on 31st January 2012, along with Sombo's family, and a great friend of mine, David Smith, we walked Sombo out of Phnom Penh. An official contract secured our partnership and I relocated to Cambodia to oversee Sombo’s medical program funded by the generosity of EARS Asia supporters. Sombo is now living peacefully in the beautiful forests of Mondulkiri, her working life a distant memory.
Kiri and Seila
Kiri and Seila had lived in a small enclosure at Teuk Chhou Zoo in southern Cambodia for over a decade surviving on little food or water. These two elephants were privately owned by H.E. Nhim Vanda. I first visited the zoo with Nick Marx from Wildlife Alliance in 2012, and through EARS Asia and a key supporter, Fiona Hardie, we pledged to care for these beautiful elephants and fund the expansion of their enclosure, feeding program, veterinary care, and staff.
In 2015, H.E. Nhim Vanda announced he was trading his elephants to a zoo in Japan. Devastated at this news, I launched a campaign to stop the trade from going ahead.
2012 - present
With the support of Voice for Zoo Animals Japan, Wild Welfare, Asia for Animals Coalition, Zoo Check, BornFree, and international public support, the trade deal was thankfully cancelled.
However, in 2018, Kiri and Seila were relocated within Cambodia to Phnom Penh Safari, a tourism entertainment facility owned by the LYP Group. There is great concern and an ongoing campaign to improve welfare standards and living conditions for the elephants and animals at this tourism facility, and one day, we hope to secure the long term future for Kiri and Seila.
Tree Tops Elephant Reserve
Phuket is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Thailand and I have visited Phuket for over 25 years. In 2016, I partnered with a former elephant camp owner in the north of Phuket, and with a strong emphasis on elephant welfare, opened the first ever non-bathing project on the island which became very successful.
This set the stage for ethical elephant tourism in Phuket, and in 2019, along with Mr Wallop P. Luengdhama and Russell Withers, we opened Tree Tops Elephant Reserve in the south of the island.
Tree Tops Elephant Reserve is a beautiful elephant sanctuary for seven retired elephants who formerly worked long hours in the logging industry, or gave rides and performed in shows for tourist entertainment. We are pioneering ethical elephant tourism in the Southern region of Phuket with our non-bathing approach. This gives visitors a unique opportunity to love and respect elephants by observing as they roam and socialize peacefully throughout the reserve, and bathe naturally without crowds of people in the water.
Opened October 2019
My vision is to transition elephant tourism by giving visitors to Asia the opportunity to choose a compassionate, gentle approach to experiencing elephants.
Education and awareness is key to change. With a proven ethical model, I hope that other camps in the region will embrace a more compassionate approach for their elephants. This will enable visitors to choose not to bathe with elephants, therefore giving elephants the freedom and space they need to bathe peacefully.
I spend my days at Tree Tops, in the forest with the elephants, with guests, or with our many cats and dogs. Once the world opens up again, if you are thinking of visiting Thailand, do please book to visit us here in Phuket. I look forward to meeting you!