From Tyrone to Thailand, Kerri McCrea dedicates her life to saving endangered elephants
A Tyrone woman has packed her trunk and set up an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
Kerri McCrea, who studied Zoology at Queen's University, said she was horrified to witness the state many elephants were left in after being overworked to the point of exhaustion.
At Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary she rescues debilitated elephants, nurses them back to health and then releases them back into the wild.
Kerri grew up on a dairy farm in Co Tyrone and said she has been surrounded by animals all her life.
She always knew she wanted a career working with creatures but wasn't sure exactly what this would entail - now she's ended up caring for the biggest and one of the most loved land mammals of them all.
Having graduated from Queen's University Belfast in 2013 with a degree in Zoology, Kerri moved to Thailand where she worked with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), roles which saw her become involved with elephant projects.
She said having her eyes opened to the plight of working elephants in Asia sparked a passion, and she has been working on ways to help them and spread awareness ever since. To this end she has even learned the tribal Karen language, to enable her to communicate with the locals where the sanctuary is located.
Kerri set up the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary with her Thai partner Sombat who is from the Karen tribe.
She told the Belfast Telegraph they work in a complicated situation.
"We have just returned four elephants to their natural habitat from the tourist camps," she said.
"Where our elephants were was one of the worst sites of elephant tourism that there is. Every day they were working with saddles on their backs. They were worked to exhaustion.
"It is a very, very complicated situation here. My boyfriend's elephants were kept at the tourist camp which basically rented them, providing an income for their families.
"I have seen elephants collapse from exhaustion and then made to stand up and continue on, giving rides all day. There is no healthcare. They are not given the right food and they are kept on short chains.
"They weren't allowed to socialise or forage or do anything that elephants are supposed to do."
Kerri said she loves seeing how excited elephants are when they are returned to the wild.
"Sombat and I worked together to provide an alternative that would benefit the elephants and the families," she explained. "We have returned them to the forest near his dad's village and will be able to pay the same monthly rent to the families through visitors, volunteers and donations.
"I love seeing these magnificent elephants get back to nature after having no freedom or choice of what they are doing.
"On the day they were released there was so much rumbling and so many squeaks from them because they were so excited to be back where they should be.
"The villagers are really happy too as we are working with them to set up home-stays, so when people visit they can stay with them and (they) earn more of an income."
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary is a non-profit foundation dedicated to giving elephants the best life possible with the help of visitors and volunteers.
There are more than 4,000 captive elephants in Thailand, most of whom are living in inadequate conditions with incorrect care and no freedom.
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary believes this is not the right environment for elephants, which is why it works towards bringing as many elephants as possible back to their natural habitat, as well as raising awareness with the public.
The sanctuary aims to work alongside elephant owners, the community and other organisations to bring a brighter future for all captive elephants.
- Find out more about Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary by visting the website at www.kselephantsanctuary.org