Sangdeaun Lek Chailert was born 1961 in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. During her childhood she had the opportunity to spend much of her time among many animals. Her grandfather was a shaman (a traditional healer) who not only helped people of his community, but also, sick and injured animals who were brought to him for help.
Her grandfather allowed Lek to be part of his work occasionally and let her participate in his healing of animals. She discovered that all animals strive to live well and Lek become to determined to work to save animals. It is not only elephants she loves, but she strives to help all kinds of animals that she finds, providing a safe home and care for them.
With a love and respect for her country’s national symbol, and the knowledge that they were becoming endangered, Lek began advocating for the rights and welfare of the Asian elephants in Thailand. In an industry steeped in tradition, advocating for positive change in the ways domestic and wild Asian elephants are treated has not been an easy battle. However, with hard work and determination her voice is now internationally recognized. In addition to several documentaries produced by National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and the BBC, Lek has also won many honorary awards.
Lek’s mission continues to affect others as her voice is heard throughout the world. Her story and voice have made an impact in the minds of all who give their lives to animal welfare and conservation. Lek’s mission to save the Asian elephants continues to expand. She has formed the Save Elephant Foundation and a dedicated team works tirelessly by her side to protect the Asian elephant.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited Lek to Washington, DC in 2010 to honor her as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation. But, the accolades do not end there. Lek was named one of Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia for her work in conservation in 2005 and the Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet” in 2001. Lek has earned honorary degrees from Rajabhat Chiang Mai University. The National Geographic documentary Vanishing Giants, highlighting Lek’s work with the Asian elephant, was recognized by the Humane Society of the United States with the Genesis Award in 2003.
Today, Lek continues to be at the forefront of elephant (and other animal) rights causes, raising international awareness and encouraging other countries in the region to follow her lead, as well as helping provide sustainable alternatives to local villages. At the same time, she maintains special relationships with the animals she rescues. Most days, she can be found at Elephant Nature Park spending time with the rescued herd.