Summer: Elephants, Culture and Ecology

Join us in the summer to study elephants in Thailand! Highly intelligent, elephants have been significant in both Thai and tribal cultures for centuries. This hands-on program will spend extended time with elephants, including studying elephant veterinary care, their historical role in Thailand, as well as elephant conservation in Southeast Asia.

Our course, “Elephants, Culture and Ecology in Thailand: History, Care and Conservation of the Asian Elephant” spends extended time interacting with elephants, Thai vets, Thai university professors as well as mahouts and others involved in elephant care and conservation.

This program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Students will start in Chiang Mai city, studying conversational Thai and the care and biology of elephants in Thailand and Southeast Asia.  This will be followed by an extended expedition into several areas looking at elephant conservation efforts, the dilemmas posed by elephant tourism, and getting to know elephants first hand. Field studies and on-going experiential learning create an unforgettable experience.

This is a hands-on and experiential program! Students will be actively studying the issues around elephants and elephants themselves — you will need to be willing to get up close and personal with elephants, and should be comfortable around large animals (or willing to learn how!).

MODULE 1: ELEPHANT CARE: Two weeks in Chiang Mai learning from Thai vets and visiting and studying in elephant hospitals and conservation centers.  Instructors will include active veterinarians working in elephant hospitals and clinics, as well as professors from Chiang Mai University’s veterinary school.  Emphasis on hands on experiential learning about the care and conservation of elephants.  The program will include working with the Elephant Therapy program that uses elephants therapeutically with children with disabilities.


OPTION A: Ecology and Culture of Asian Elephants (open enrollment)

2 weeks learning about the broader ecological context of elephants in Asia, as well as their cultural significance. This module will include studies of wild elephants in the UNESCO World Heritage Huay Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, looking at human/elephant conflict, visiting the ancient UNESCO World Heritage city of Ayutthaya and the historical and contemporary use of elephants, and include a stay in a remote Karen hill tribe village that still keeps and works with elephants. The cultural context and meaning of “domestication” will also be studied, from the origins of “war elephants” in the ancient armies of India and Southeast Asia to the use of elephants in logging and the contemporary tourism industry, including the unique challenges of elephant veterinary care. Urban myths and contemporary issues around “elephant tourism” will be critically examined, especially in the context of representation and struggles over the control of the future of elephants in Thailand, both domestic and wild.

OPTION B: Clinical shadowing with a Thai veterinarian (currently enrolled veterinary school students only or pre-vet with approval)

Two weeks working with and shadowing a Thai veterinarian working with elephants.  Students will be placed singly or in pairs with a veterinarian actively working in an elephant hospital or clinic.

Program outcomes

Students on the course will demonstrate competency in the following topics:

  • Understand the key issues in veterinary care of elephants, including feeding, health care and reproduction in captivity
  • Understanding of the evolutionary history of elephants and related species
  • Know the key points of the biology and reproduction of elephants, social organization of wild elephants and elephant communication
  • Historical and cultural role of elephants in South and Southeast Asian cultures, as well as the specific roles of elephants in the Thai historical context
  • Understand contemporary issues and debates around the survival of Asian elephants, different approaches to tourism and conservation, and the future of the Asian elephant in Thailand, both domestic and wild

REQUIREMENTS: This program is only open to currently enrolled college or university students, both undergraduate and graduate students. Students need to have a minimum 3.0 GPA,  in good academic standing, and not on disciplinary probation. Applicants will be selected based on their application essays and letters of recommendation.

PLEASE NOTE:  Students are encouraged to apply early, as the program may fill.  Once full we will places students on a waiting list. Contact us if you have any questions about the application process or the program at [email protected].

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SUMMER 2017 Dates

June 3 – July 2

Application deadline: March 15th. Students will be accepted before that date — we encourage you to apply early to be sure you have a spot on the program!


Elephants, Culture and Ecology in Thailand: History, Care and Conservation of the Asian Elephant

— Module 1: Elephant Care

— Module 2: Ecology / Clinical


4 Semester hours

2 credits per module


“I think about my time in Thailand frequently...and I know that I have become a better student, scientist, and global citizen because of it."

Lily M. | Fall, 2012

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Fall Semester: March 15  |  Spring Semester: October 12

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