Over 2,000 Thailand's tourist elephants face starvation - GulfToday

Over 2,000 Thailand's tourist elephants face starvation


Elephants and their mahouts near the Patara Elephant Farm near Chiang Mai, where many camps have been shuttered due to fears of the COVID-19. AFP

Underfed and chained up for endless hours, campaigners warn many elephants working in Thailand's tourism sector may starve, be sold to zoos or shifted into the illegal logging trade as the coronavirus decimates visitor numbers.

ThaielephantsVirusTourists ride elephants in Chang Siam Park in Pattaya. File / AFP

Before the virus, life for the kingdom's estimated more than 2,000 elephants working in tourism was already stressful, with abusive methods into giving rides and performing tricks at money-spinning animal shows.


Video of baby elephant playing with man goes viral

Thailand redirects public to cloth masks over medical mask shortage

Elephants march in Thailand to pay respects to newly king

With global travel paralysed the animals are unable to pay their way, including the 300 kilogrammes of food a day a captive elephant needs to survive.

Elephant camps and conservationists warn hunger and the threat of renewed exploitation lie ahead, without an urgent bailout.

Chiang Mai is Thailand's northern tourist hub, an area of rolling hills dotted by elephant camps and sanctuaries ranging from the exploitative to the humane.

elephant 5 Tourists observe elephants at the elephant Nature Park. File/AFP

Around 2,000 elephants are currently "unemployed" as the virus eviscerates Thailand's tourist industry, says Theerapat Trungprakan, president of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association.

Crisis point

For those hawking a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the giant creatures — whether from afar or up close — the slump began in late January.

Chinese visitors, who make up the majority of Thailand's 40 million tourists, plunged by more than 80 percent in February as China locked down cities hard-hit by the virus and banned external travel.

elephant 3 Elephants walking near the Patara elephant Farm. AFP

By March, the travel restrictions into Thailand — which has 1,388 confirmed cases of the virus — had extended to Western countries.

With elephants increasingly malnourished due to the loss of income, the situation is "at a crisis point," says Saengduean Chailert, owner of Elephant Nature Park.

Her sanctuary for around 80 rescued pachyderms only allows visitors to observe the creatures, a philosophy at odds with venues that have them performing tricks and offering rides.

elephant 4 A mahout with elephants foraging for food next to the Patara elephant Farm in an area affected by drought near Chiang Mai.

She has organised a fund to feed elephants and help mahouts in almost 50 camps nationwide, fearing the only options will soon be limited to zoos, starvation or logging work.

"We need 1,000 baht a day (about $30) for each elephant," says Apichet Duangdee, who runs the Elephant Rescue Park.

ThaielephantTouristAn elephant lifts a tourist in Chang Siam Park in Pattaya. File / AFP

Freeing his eight mammals rescued from circuses and loggers into the forests is out of the question as they would likely be killed in territorial fights with wild elephants.

He is planning to take out a two million baht ($61,000) loan soon to keep his elephants fed.

"I will not abandon them," he added.

Related articles