Northern Ireland woman on huge mission to rescue elephants in Thailand and walk them to freedom in new sanctuary
Rescue missions don't come much bigger than this.
It's a trek with a difference for one Northern Ireland woman as she will be leading elephants from a life working in captivity to freedom at a brand new sanctuary in Thailand.
Kerri McCrea, from Donemara in Co Tyrone, has been living in Thailand for the past three years after travelling there when she was offered a job working for an elephant organisation near Chiang Mai.
It was there she learned about the situation of captive elephants in Thailand.
She met her boyfriend Sombat who is from the Karen Hilltribe, and owned elephants for years that have been passed down from generation to generation.
But due to the complex situation in Thailand many have been kept in a tourist camp with little freedom to roam.
Kerri told the Belfast Telegraph: "His family care for their elephants very much, but due to the complex situation here, they have been kept in a tourist camp where they have been worked to exhaustion giving rides, under fed, given incorrect health care and with very little freedom to just be elephants.
"Sombat and myself realised that we need to do anything we can to make their elephant lives better. Before Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, his family had not been given an alternative where their elephants are able to live a natural life and they were still able to make a living from them."
70km trek in the hot season to bring the elephants home
So they have set upon removing the elephants from the tourist camp to take them to the brand new Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary - but that is no easy task.
They will be walking two of their elephants Too Meh and Boon Rott back to their home village where the sanctuary is set .
Too Meh will then be reunited with her daughter Mae Doom.
Kerri said: "We are currently preparing for our fundraiser, on May 1 where myself and my team will be walking over 70km in the heat of hot season with our elephants to bring them home.
"We are asking everyone to support our cause by donating or setting up your own fundraiser. We are also looking for visitors and volunteers to come out and help us take care of our elephants."
'As natural a life as possible'
And while the animals will never be able to live fully in the wild - they hope the sanctuary will provide an environment for the elephants to live as natural a life as possible
"They will live in semi-wild conditions, be able to roam as much as possible", said Kerri.
"They will never be fully wild due to the huge deforestation in Thailand and the many corn fields that surround the forests here, but our kind mahouts (elephant caretakers) will be taking great care of them to ensure that there is no human conflict.
"As well as our elephants, we also help our community by providing an income through jobs, giving free English lessons and educating them on eco-tourism."
Sponsors to help set up sanctuary
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary need sponsors and donations to help set up the sanctuary.
They are trying to reach a target of $15,400/£11,000 which is how much it costs to keep their three elephants in the forest for one year – however these donations will also be going towards their set-up costs and possibly towards running costs.
Kerri added: "I have been working with many elephant organisations for a few years now but I have always felt like there is more that I can do.
"The standard of life for many elephants over here can be extremely low, I want to do anything that I can to give them the life they deserve and raise awareness."
To find out more visit their website here, to donate click here or join the fundraiser here
Belfast Telegraph Digital