How We Began

Katherine Connor created BLES in memory of the baby elephant, Boon Lott (which means survivor in Thai). Inspired by his unfailing courage when faced with obstacle after obstacle, Katherine founded a home in his name for rescued and retired elephants.

Born several months premature, Boon Lott had been transported with his mother, Pang Tong, to an elephant hospital in northern Thailand where Katherine was a volunteer. Katherine recognized quickly that the fragile three-month-old calf was very special. They formed an immediate and profound bond.

When Boon Lott was six-months old, his owner decided to sell him to a tourist establishment and return his mother, Pang Tong, to illegal logging. Elephant calves should remain with their mothers for at least three years; a premature separation is detrimental to a calf’s physical and mental health. Katherine knew Boon Lott would die if taken from his mother. His precarious start in life left him with a calcium deficiency and other weaknesses. To prevent the mother/child separation, Katherine launched an international ‘Save Baby Babar’ fundraising campaign and successfully raised the money needed to rescue Boon Lott. She also negotiated an agreement with the owner to allow Pang Tong to remain with her baby until he was naturally weaned.

Shortly after this victory, Boon Lott suffered a fall that left his hind legs paralyzed. Experts traveled across Thailand to give their opinions, unanimously agreeing that he would die within days. Katherine was devastated, yet determined to get Boon

Lott back on his feet and began searching for a cure. Her own funds exhausted, she raised money for a hydrotherapy pool to be built at the hospital. After an exhaustive internet search, Katherine discovered an equine sling (Anderson Sling), which was imported from the United States and modified for Boon Lott. She tended to all his needs and slept beside him every night. To further aid his recovery, Katherine administered acupuncture, electrotherapy, traditional Thai massage, and aromatherapy.

On his second birthday, Boon Lott was presented with the world’s first elephant wheelchair. Designed by Katherine and engineers at Chiang Mai University, the chair was funded by a campaign launched by Katherine’s local hometown newspaper. The chair proved to be a huge success, and soon, with Katherine’s encouragement, Boon Lott would stand unassisted and attempt to walk everyday. Despite his successes, the final tragedy occurred when Boon Lott fell again, snapping his femur in half. Even his indomitable will could not overcome this injury and Boon Lott never stood again. On June 26, 2004, with Katherine holding him as she had for the past 14 months, Boon Lott’s heart stopped beating.

As a testament to Boon Lott’s courage, Katherine established BLES in his memory. Despite cautions regarding her safety and warnings about the futility of a young British woman founding an elephant sanctuary in a foreign country, without government support, Katherine and BLES are flourishing. Boon Lott’s infectious spirit is present in every Sanctuary moment.

Snapshots

  • Boon Lott was just three months old when Katherine first met him
  •  Boon Lott, just over a year old, fell down and lost the use of his back legs.
  • Among various other treatments, Boon Lott received electro-stimulation therapy to strengthen his muscles.
  • Katherine slept beside Boon Lott with her arms wrapped around him and his trunk wrapped around her.
  • Despite the severity of his injuries, Boon Lott remained playful.
  • First tentative steps in the specially designed wheelchair.
  • The wheelchair supported Boon Lott’s body weight so that he could continue to suckle from his mother.
  • It didn’t take long for the determined little elephant to start walking confidently.
  • Katherine raised funds for a hydrotherapy pool to enable Boon Lott to grow stronger through play.  Photograph: Mike Fresco
  • During his final days when he was no longer able to stand and suckle from his mother, Katherine bottle fed Boon Lott.