Corona Virus and Thai Elephants

27. June 2020

“With no money from tourism, some of  Thailand’s elephant keepers are taking their animals deep into the country to wait out the pandemic” as reported by BBC news on June 4, 2020.

The BBC film documents the movement of about 40 elephants from their elephant camp to the Karen village of their home, a distance of about 100 km. It took 3 long days for the elephants to walk home. The herd included a 4 month old baby and one 60 year old elephant. All of them made it safely home. Many of them had been away for 20 or more years, but recognizing their natural range, they showed their joy with squeaks and trumpet sounds, playing with the children in the village and visiting the nearby river.

Elephants and mahouts walking home. Photo credit: Save Elephant Foundation

Back in the mountains of Chang Mai province the elephants can browse for food in the forest and the mahouts can grow food for themselves. Hundreds of elephants are on the move across Thailand to to get back into their home ranges, often after decades of hard work in areas visited by tourists, areas not all suited to the elephants’ natural needs.

Elephants arriving home. Photo credit: Save Elephant Foundation

As there are between 2,00 and 3,000 working elephants in Thailand, this first migration back to natural habitats, is a good start for saving captive elephants from starvation as the corona virus pandemic continues.  Much of the plan to move captive elephants and their owners into a more self supporting natural environment has been pioneered and financed by Lek Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephant Foundation. During May a team of the Save Elephant Foundation visited 22 elephant camps, donating funds for food, providing for 305 elephants and discussing a more sustainable and natural future for captive elephants in Thailand.

Lek explains on her website: “I have distinct hope for change and see a brighter future for the captive working elephant. Most elephant owners similarly worry about the situation and have great concerns about the tourist industry. Hopefully we can arrive at a common ground, paving the way for positive change.”  

If anybody can create a better future for captive Thai elephants and their owners, Lek Chailert is that person.

Lek Chailert among her elephants. Photo credit: Elephant Nature Park



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