Pattaya riding elephant rescued, experiences freedom for the first time at new sanctuary home

All images: WFFT

Elderly elephant Nam Chok spent decades being used to give rides to tourists at an elephant trekking camp in Pattaya. Now in her sixties, her owner agreed to send her to a sanctuary for her retirement.

The partially blind elephant is suspected to have been caught from the wild, and has been in captivity for decades ever since. She has recently been working at a trekking camp in Pattaya, where elephants are used to entertain and give rides to paying tourists.

When the rescue team arrived at the camp, Nam Chok still had her riding saddle on and worked until her last day. Thankfully, her owner had agreed to let Nam Chok retire, and wildlife rescue centre Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) stepped in to offer her a sanctuary home at its elephant refuge.

Nam Chok during her time in Pattaya

Now, after a journey from Pattaya to WFFT’s sanctuary in Phetchaburi earlier this month, Nam Chok has arrived and is settling into her new home, where she will no longer have to work and can live the rest of her life in peace.

WFFT’s staff and volunteers greeted her on arrival, and had prepared a welcoming buffet of fresh fruit and specially-made banana balls, which Nam Chok tucked into straight away.

On the walk to her new habitat, she passed fellow rescue elephants Duenphen and See Puak, and shared an emotional moment as the elephants all communicated with each other by raising their trunks.

Nam Chok has scars from a lifetime of working, which likely includes some years in the logging industry, as well as her more recent work at the elephant trekking camp. She is startlingly thin and suffers from digestive issues. She is also partially blind in one eye, after she was injured with a bull hook.

Now under WFFT’s care, she will receive 24/7 medical treatment from the sanctuary’s expert veterinary team, and also enjoy a balanced and nutritious diet of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Nam Chok is said to be slightly smaller than some of WFFT’s other older, female rescue elephants, and is described by staff as being very calm and gentle by nature.

The sanctuary will now provide lifetime care for Nam Chok, alongside their 23 other rescue elephants. They all live happily in large elephant enclosures, which are up to 110 rai each and have natural trees, lakes and grazing areas. Each rescue elephant eats around 300 kg of food every day.

Today it’s estimated there are around 3,800 domestic elephants in Thailand – most of them work in the tourism or logging industries. Meanwhile, in the wild, there are only around 3,500 individuals left, who live in open grasslands and dense rainforests spread over the country.

To help support WFFT’s work and the lifelong care for Nam Chok, visit

All images: WFFT