Elephants at Sappraiwan sanctuary.

A Journey to Sanctuary: The Heartwarming Story of Grandma Sangdao



During a recent trip to Thailand, one elephant’s story highlighted an urgent call to end all elephant exploitation.

Nestled in the heart of a lush forest in Thailand lies the Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary, one of World Animal Protection’s partner sanctuaries, and a beacon of hope for rescued elephants. I recently had the pleasure of visiting this serene haven, about an hour’s flight north of Bangkok, and got to meet some incredible elephants and humans.  

One story really warmed my heart—the story of Grandma Sangdao. Her name means ‘starlight’ which perfectly captures the hope she represents for elephants everywhere.

Discovered at a tourist beach where she was being exploited for humans, her initial state was heart-wrenching. She was severely underweight, with wounds that highlighted her grim past. Thanks to the team at Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary, they were able to rescue her and give her a chance at a new beginning.

Grandma Sangdao, before.

Grandma Sangdao before her rehabilitation.

Upon her arrival at the sanctuary, the veterinarian performed an exam and felt that, considering her condition, she wouldn’t live longer than six months. The team was crushed but wanted to give her the best life they could with the remaining time she had. Because of their efforts, here we are, six years later, and Grandma Sangdao is doing great and living the life she was meant to.

Grandma Sangdao, after.

Her transformation is a beautiful miracle. At age 68, Grandma Sangdao is not only the sanctuary’s eldest resident but also its most spirited, embodying the resilience and strength that define these majestic beings. Her journey from a life destroyed by exploitation to one rebuilt by hope and determination is a powerful testament to our shared mission to end cruelty and captivity.  

Grandma Sangdao’s story is a reminder of the individual lives behind the staggering statistics of animal exploitation. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of suffering in our world, but connecting with just one animal and understanding their story can ignite a flame of change.

Grandma Sangdao was one, but there are thousands of elephants suffering all over the world, particularly in the tourism industry. Please only visit reputable sanctuaries and never pay to feed, wash, or ride elephants as it perpetuates this violence against them.

Her story is more than an account of rescue and recovery, it’s a powerful call to action. It’s a reminder that change starts with the choices we make and the actions we take.

You can join the fight to help stop elephant exploitation by signing our petition urging the Thai government to ban elephant breeding.

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