The ongoing success of BLES is made possible by a team of rare individuals who work tirelessly to promote animal welfare. From those working off-site to raise public awareness to those involved in day-to-day operations, the BLES team achieves the impossible. With sheer determination, the BLES team is deterring the threat of extinction — one elephant at a time.

At BLES, an essential member of the team is the mahout, the elephant handler. The word mahout is derived from Indian Sanskrit, meaning ‘teacher of all’, which aptly describes our mahouts at BLES. Each mahout exudes understanding, respect, and a passion to protect our elephants. However, this style of handling differs from the traditional mahout/elephant working relationship that utilizes tools and methods based on animal domination.

The elephant was historically a source of income for the mahout and his family. When not working or being controlled with the hook, the elephants would be chained. It has been a challenge for our mahouts to understand that there is a more humane and gentler way handle domesticated elephants. The BLES approach is completely antithetical to the traditional Thai way of elephant management. The mahouts employed by BLES were at first reluctant and critical of a new method introduced by a young, foreign woman. Not all were prepared to undertake reeducation. But those who were willing to trust in Katherine, now embrace the BLES aproach and this should be recognized as remarkable.

Show your appreciation of our mahouts by contributing to Mahout of the Month

Banner photograph: Ali Bullock


  •  The director of the BLES UK registered charity, Tom Killeen.
  •  BLES secretary Evelyn Connor.
  • Kham, mahout of Seedor Yai.
  • The BLES family 2008
  • Lune BoonChoo, maintanance man.
  • Phi SomChai, mahout of Pang Noi
  • Phi Sot, mahout of Somai
  • Photograph: Peter Yuen
  • Photograph: Peter Yuen