Elephant and Wildlife Conservation Apprenticeship in Thailand

Hone your research skills on this program dedicated to the conservation of semi-wild elephants.

Durations: 24 weeks
Fieldwork hours50 hrs of fieldwork per week
Participant ratio1:6 staff to participant ratio
GVI experiencesIncludes GVI Experiences

Program information

Kick-start your career on this apprenticeship in Thailand’s mountainous Chiang Mai region, where you’ll gain valuable experience to broaden your career options. Teach English to community members, assist with biodiversity studies, including bird and reptile surveys, and contribute to monitoring the reintegration of elephants relieved from the tourism industry into the forest.

Adventure is calling. Chase that feeling!

Save up to 15% when you book and pay by 31 July
Book with confidence
Travel flexibility, because life happens! Modify your booking, even up to 48 hours before departure. T&Cs apply.
Dates & Prices
What's Included
Life On Base
Free time & cultural immersion
Speak to alumni
Parent Info
Arrivals &
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Qualifications & Training Options
Support & Safety

Program overview

Travel to see the breathtaking mountainous scenery of Northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, and contribute to conserving the Asian elephants by living and working with traditional elephant-keeping communities.

This apprenticeship consists of three aspects, namely community development (including teaching English), biodiversity, and elephants. This makes it an ideal opportunity to gain practical experience of skills that would serve you well for a career in conservation or zoology, or if you have an interest in the natural world that you would like to develop further. Each of these programs is run independently but are integrated and highly relevant to each other.

The community program consists of teaching English to children at the school and to the elephant keepers (mahouts), as well as supporting community efforts to reduce their financial dependence on their elephants. The biodiversity program involves surveying and identifying reptiles, mammals and birds in the local area using different techniques. The elephant program consists of leading elephant health checks, studying the behaviour of the semi-wild herd, and educating other participants about Asian elephants.


Work placement
Join a 3-month work placement with either GVI or one of our local partner organisations, gaining essential conservation research experience.
Explore Huay Pakoot
Experience the unique Karen culture and lush mountains of this beautiful region of Thailand while observing elephants in their natural habitat.
Kick-start your career
Participate in three months of intensive fieldwork training to ensure you’re ready to launch directly into your conservation career.
Get a job placement
Work for a conservation partner for three months to get real practical experience and build a network of industry contacts.
Fast-track experience
Join a targeted career-readiness program that’s based on two decades of experience to grow your leadership and career skills.
Career guarantee
Our comprehensive apprenticeships guarantee a job offer within 18 months upon completion of all program components and meeting eligibility criteria.
Advance your career
Gain international experience, receive four recognised qualifications and get a LinkedIn reference to boost your CV.
Get the edge
We know what it takes to work in conservation – that’s why our apprenticeships qualify for preferential recruitment when applying for GVI vacancies.

Is this program for me?

This internship is specifically useful for someone who has or is actively studying the below subject areas at school, university or college, or has an interest in these subject areas.

  • Ecology
  • Population biology
  • Epidemiology
  • Biology
  • Environmental science
  • Wildlife management
  • Zoology
  • Animal husbandry
  • Botany
  • Ecology and evolution
  • Geology
  • Wildlife biology and conservation
  • Human ecology
  • Livelihood and development
  • Conservation biology
  • Social sciences
  • Ethnography
  • Biodiversity, conservation and management
  • Development studies


Some of the example typical activities you could participate in on this program.

Fieldwork training
Learn how to identify species, conduct surveys and population assessments, and assess threats to terrestrial ecosystems and ecosystem-level processes.
Lead conservation surveys
Hike through the nearby forest to collect data on elephants, gibbons and other notable species, including birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.
Learn about Asian elephants
Gain an understanding of elephant behaviour, and experience the bond they share with their mahouts and the role they play in Thai culture.
Project work
Participate in conservation and community work, including data entry, workshops and English teaching for community and ecotourism benefit.
Leadership training
Complete various courses, including Impact and Ethics, Intro to Project Management, Effective Communication and Leading Teams for Impact.
Leadership responsibilities
Data entry, report writing, species list updates, and fieldwork checklist maintenance, and assisting with homestay orientation for new participants.
Personal project
Work on an individual project that aligns with your personal interests.
Meet weekly in a small group with other interns and an experienced mentor to receive project guidance and feedback on your leadership style.


  • Data collection
  • Data entry
  • Population ecology
  • Species identification
  • Survey research
  • Wildlife conservation


Some of the partners we work with on base.

Huay Pakoot Elephant Community Foundation
Local High School
Karen Hill Tribe Community

Program details

Dates and prices

Select a start date:

This is summer!

Chase that feeling! Save up to 15% on selected programs.

Book and pay by 31 July to claim offer.
Payment plans. Flexible payment plans allow you to pay in instalments.

What happens next?

Once you apply, a personal Enrollment Manager will be assigned to walk you through the rest of the process.


The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date.


Start the day early with a cup of Roots coffee – locally grown coffee from a local villager who runs a coffee shop next to GVI's research station.


Prepare and enjoy breakfast with your team at the base breakfast bar. Make sure you have your backpack packed for the elephant hike.


Hike through the forest to collect data on elephants. Take part in elephant health checks and record information about their health and behaviour.


Lunch is enjoyed together as a group. Depending on the day's activities, you'll either have a packed lunch or eat at the base.


Attend conservation training, do intern/research work, or use the free time to expand your knowledge on elephants, gibbons and local species.


Deliver lessons at the local school, with a focus on teaching English, sports activities, health and well-being, and environmental awareness.


Conservation activities, including web and village innovation for local businesses, and ecobrick and recycling workshops to reduce our waste.


Gather as a team to reflect on the day's work, and discuss any important aspects, challenges, wins and notices for the day or week.


Enjoy dinner with your homestay family, sharing a traditional Karen dish using ingredients sourced directly from the surrounding area.


Time to relax or get involved in social activities like local quiz nights. Some evenings will include a night hike to conduct biodiversity surveys.


Head off to bed and get a restful night’s sleep ahead of tomorrow’s adventures. Sleep tight!

What’s included?

What's included
Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)
Airport pick up (unless stated)
All project equipment
24-hour in-country support from local staff
24-hour emergency desk
GVI Experiences
Sustainable project work
Data collection and research
Leadership responsibilities
Personal project
12-week placement
Weekly group sessions
Internship supervisor guidance
Pre-program training
Pre-departure webinar
Pre-departure training (online)
University of Richmond endorsed specialisation course
University of Richmond endorsed leadership course
Welcome training
GVI welcome presentation
Health & safety
Local culture & environment
Impact & ethics
Child protection
Advanced leadership training
Personal development record
Project planning and management
Fast track training
Self-leadership and well-being
Project management
Ethical engagement
Measuring impact
Developing intercultural competence
Effective communication (storytelling and social media)
Team management
Participant journey
Off-site safety management
Safety management in practice (OSSM part 2)
Standards, policies and procedures
Emergency first response (select hubs)
Career services
University of Richmond careers course
Career coaching sessions (x2)
Career guarantee
LinkedIn reference – upon request
Job portal
Preferential recruitment on GVI positions
Program certificate
University certificate – specialisation (University of Richmond)
University certificate – leadership (University of Richmond)
University certificate – careers (University of Richmond)
Fast track training certificate
What's excluded
Not included
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Visa costs
Police or background check
Personal items and toiletries
Additional drinks and gratuities

Life On Base

Located in the heart of Northern Thailand, our research station in Chiang Mai is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, fields and forests. With beautiful hills all around, we have a bird’s-eye view over the fields and forests below. In the rainy season, the clouds roll through the base at eye level. Being the middle of the jungle, elephants can be found throughout the surrounding areas.

When you arrive you’ll be welcomed by the villagers with a traditional Geju ceremony, which they perform for all new participants upon their arrival. During the Geju, food is blessed and pieces of string are tied onto others’ wrists to wish them good fortune.

The project work takes place in the Mae Chaem District, a 5-hour journey deep into the mountains, where the famous Karen elephant-keeping community resides. This community shares a unique and sacred relationship with elephants.

From our research station it’s about a 50-minute walk to the river where you can see buffalo walking about. Despite being very afraid of people and quite shy, you might sometimes see them in the village. The open-air base is divided into two buildings. The older building is usually reserved as a study area – or for staff meetings, presentations and lectures. It has a table with chairs, a hammock for reading, and a few small desks. The newer building is where people socialise. The library is in the new building. It’s small and basic, consisting of a few bookshelves.You can catch some amazing sunsets right at the base, and when night comes, kick back and enjoy stargazing around the fire pit we often hang out at in the evenings. During free nights, we like to watch movies on the projector, visit a villager’s home, or take a night stroll. Games (board and card games) are well received and enjoyable to interact with the local community members. There are also a few friendly dogs around the base.


GVI Chiang Mai allows you to experience the local lifestyle. Each volunteer gets their own homestay with a family in the local community. This allows you to become immersed in the ...


We provide transfers to and from the Chiang Mai Airport. If you’re not arriving within the pick-up window, you’ll find regulated taxi stands at the airport. You can eas...


When it comes to staying connected in Chiang Mai we get great service through the AIS network. All you need is an unlocked phone, and you can easily get a SIM card. Wi-Fi isn’...


Breakfast is available at base before the morning hikes, and lunch and dinner are typically home-cooked meals provided by your individual homestays. Food is simple but nutritious, ...


From November to February, Chiang Mai enjoys its cooler months, when the temperature is mild and mostly dry. The weather is hot and humid between March and June, but as we are base...

GVI experiences included in your program, at no extra cost.

Offered once a month, expand your adventure with GVI Experiences. These are just some of the activities offered on your program!

We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards –  the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development. 

Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.

Learn traditional Karen cooking
Taste tradition
Connect with the Karen people's culture
Faith in mountains
Forage for forest medicine with a village elder
The earth heals
Visit Thailand's highest peak
The Roof of Thailand
Explore Thailand's elegant and mysterious waterfalls
Water travellers
See amazing biodiversity on a night trek
The night calls
Take a sunrise hike up Two Tree Hill
Into another world
Sleep under the stars alongside Asian elephants
Starry, starry night

Free time & cultural immersion

By joining a GVI program, you not only contribute to preserving unique ecosystems but also get the chance to explore the surrounding area or venture further to see what else the region has to offer on weekends.

Our field staff are a great source of advice on local travel options. Many participants choose to travel before or after their experience, solidifying friendships made on the program. 

Engaging with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in today’s world. Cultural immersion is encouraged, and there are many activities to enjoy during your free time or before and after your program. Please note, these suggestions aren’t included in the program fee and are at your own expense.

Spirituality and religion

Most people in the village are animists, who believe that all objects, including animals, have a spiritual essence or soul. There are a lot of Christians living here too. You can g...


Many visitors to Thailand choose the destination because of its amazing food culture. From street food to culinary delights in the finest Thai restaurants, you will never be short ...


There are festivals throughout the year, the most notable being Songkran – the Thai new year and water festival – held in mid-April, and the lantern festival in November. National ...


Thai is the official language of Thailand and is spoken by roughly 36 million people across the world. In the village where we are based, the local language is Pakinyaw, which you’...

Weekend trips


Pai is an amazingly small backpacker town with a huge street-food market. Tours to the canyon, caves and waterfalls are available. Check out Pai Canyon – a serene, scenic canyon wi...

Local adventures

Karen culture

The Karen people are friendly, minimalistic, generous to outsiders, and caring towards nature and wildlife. There are a number of community elders who are very conversational and h...

Village celebrations

Visit the village’s Buddhist temple which is set alongside a sacred lake. During Thai holidays, you may hear chanting coming from the temple, see parades taking place, or witness a...

Night in the forest

Ten minutes away from the village, there’s a campsite in a conservation forest. Upon request, we sometimes take what gear is available on base and sleep out in the forest. We starg...

Football, volleyball and ultimate frisbee

Join other participants for a game of football, volleyball or ultimate frisbee at a field next to the school. Just be sure that it’s not being used by the local students for their ...

Hiking trails

Take a hike along the corn fields to watch the sunrise. This trail offers excellent views of the forest. Or take the forest trail – you might even see some gibbons. This is quite a...

Smoothies, noodles and fashion

Visit Boh Luh’s Smoothie Shop, a two-minute walk from base. Boh Luh sells delicious smoothies made from mango, banana, passionfruit, watermelon and other fruit. Make use of the reu...

Movie nights

We have a projector at base as well as a large selection of movies. Sometimes we take a vote on which one to put on after dinner (or when we have a quiet afternoon).


If you need to get a workout in, you’ll find our gym on the lower floor of our base hut. It includes a gym bench and weights.

Ping pong

On the lower floor of our base hut, you’ll find a ping-pong table. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself engaged in a heated ping-pong tournament against some of the mahouts!

Speak to alumni

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Meet the team

Get acquainted with the GVI Asia, Thailand, Chiang Mai family

Jonathan Berry

Program Manager

This is Jonathan, the Program Manager at our Chiang Mai base in Thailand. He has joined us from Liverpool in the United Kingdom and has visited this base as a volunteer on seven ...

Liam Ingram

Senior Program Coordinator

Hi I’m Liam, from Shropshire in England. Before working here I worked in horticulture and I’ve been looking to utilise my green fingers here. I’ve been to 3 GVI Hubs in the last ...

Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.


We meet you at the airport.

When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.

As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals.

We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile.

This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.


Find your flights with our partner, Student Universe.
Flights are not included in your program fee
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As GVI is providing this portal as a service we are not responsible for the accuracy of this site.

We are also not responsible for any loss, damage (including loss of profits or consequential damages), injury, illness, harm or death in relation to your flight and travel arrangements.

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

GVI Chiang Mai’s programs work in collaboration with the local Karen hill tribe community and village of Huay Pakoot. To promote sustainable ecotourism, we work with the elephant-keeping community to assist monitor the introduction of elephants into their natural habitat after their previous lives in tourist camps.

Your contribution will assist in keeping these elephants in protected forests, continuing the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as providing funding to keep the project running. We also offer alternative livelihoods and English lessons to the local community. Upskilling in English helps facilitate a self-sustainable ecotourism industry. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socialising, and foraging in their natural habitat – supervised by their mahouts (elephant keepers) from the local village.

Elephant Surveys

We work with local mahouts to track elephants in the forest – collecting behavioural data through observation, taking note of the following:

  • Two-minute interval activity budget on each elephant.
  • Interaction with other elephants.
  • Vocalisation recordings (written not audio).
  • Monitoring stereotyping behaviour.

Every week we do a health check (eye drainage, tongue check etc.) It’s important to note that we have a hands-off approach.

Gibbon surveys

We gather data from song and visual surveys of white-handed gibbons, assisting scientists in expanding their understanding of gibbon ecology and conservation status in the Chiang Mai region. Typically, you’ll assist in survey planning, GPS tracking, camera trap setup, photography, gibbon sound recording, data sheet entries and database input.

Biodiversity Hikes

We conduct day and night biodiversity hikes, recording any species we see, including birds, gibbons, bats, snakes, reptiles, lizards, amphibians, frogs and toads. We add the images to iNaturalist and eBird.

Quality Education

We work with the local government school – with both teachers and students. Our school-based teaching involves English language, health and wellness workshops, environmental education workshops and sports activities. Our community-based lessons involve adult and child learners in the community. These are often informal evening sessions, based around what the learners want to learn.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We want to be able to measure our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they’re making a substantial contribution to. This also helps our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Project objectives


GVI Chiang Mai Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase and promote ethical elephant tourism.

2. Create a viable self sustaining ecotourism program for the village.

3. Improve standards of living and job opportunities for the community in the Huay Pakoot village.

4. Improve sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area.

5. Ensure the preservation and study of a thriving population of wild white-handed gibbons in the Huay Pakoot area.


The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.

All of our publications are on Google Scholar
Google Scholar
View publications
GVI Thailand Chiang Mai 2019 Annual Report
Annual Report
Liane Fulford
GVI Thailand Chiang Mai Annual Report 2018
Annual Report
Liane Fulford
‘Avian Diversity as a Measure of the Impact of Megafauna Reintroduction into Evergreen Montane Forest.’
Scientific Publication

International Ornithological Congress of Southeast Asia Conference in Thailand

Heather Gilbert and Amy Bradley

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.

Our 10 ethical commitments


Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.