The COVID crisis has clarified the tenuous situation of the captive working elephant. The elephant owners, who were get paid monthly by the camp owner for the lease of their elephants now has a problem. When Thailand lockdown the country, without revenue from paying guests cause the income becomes zero yet the cost to feed the elephants remains the same. There are only a few options. When they were forced to leave the camp, some elephant owner are looking to sell their elephants, some contacted our founder, Lek Chailert to help for the temporary home for their elephants, while others are taking their elephant back home in the mountain.
Over the last two weeks, our help has been sought by numerous elephant owners to provide space for their elephants and mahouts who have been pushed out of the tourist camp. We have helped 13 elephants and their mahouts so far, placing them at several of our ethical projects. We still have 4 elephants who need to find land and lodgings. We tried all day contacting headmen and villagers, but they use the COVID issue to deny welcome of the elephant into the surrounding village areas.
Fortunately, on 25 April 2020 we found the new place for these four elephants. Four young elephants who have been displaced from their former work moved to our project called Elephant Highlands to temporarily stay with us there. We were hoping to bring them to the park (ENP) but were not given permission due to lockdown of the village. The beautiful small herd will enjoy the beauty and freedom of our Elephant Highlands project like they are living home.
For the last couple of weeks on April 2020, the elephants who have been leased and working many decades in the tourist business , who originate mostly from the Karen Tribe, they started to go back to their home land. This is perhaps the beginning of significant change in the lives of the many captive working elephant’s lives in Thailand. Who knows what good will yet come of this terrible situation ?!
This group of elephants, old and young elephants walked from the camp back to their village which takes them about 5 days to reach home. The mahouts and elephants stayed in the jungle at night time. Our team from Save Elephant Foundation followed them to bring food for both elephants and people. On their journey they walked past mostly the dry area from forest fires burning for months. This is one of the reasons for them to leave the area where they used to stay. None of them know when they might return, as the tourist industry will see little growth in the months ahead.
Elephants stopped to enjoy cooling mud bath after long hours walked through the dry forest.
It was the long journey to bring the elephant home. It was not easy journey as the day was quite hot and we have to stop many times to let the mother elephant nurse her baby and let the old elephant to take a rest.
After the long hours hiked up and down mountain, we took a long break to let the little baby get nurse and nap.
The group of elephants almost arrive their village.
When the elephants and the family return home after three decades that these elephants have left the village and family to work in the tourist industry. The Karen villagers welcome their beloved elephants and their families with the beautiful song.
When the herd arrived at their village, they received a wonderful warm welcome ceremony.
Everyone in the village showed their appreciative welcome by bringing various foods and grass to welcome the elephants. The Karen Tribe and the elephant have a long historical relationship. The Karen have been taking care of the elephant from one generation to next generations. We hope these elephants can live in their home land as long as possible.
Message from our founder, Lek Saengduaen Chailert:
Over one hundred elephants traveled home to this area. The owners and mahouts arrived home with uncertainty in their hearts. Their future seems so bleak, and no one can answer whether the situation will improve again or not. One thing is clear to them: they have one hundred elephants in their hand with the responsibility to care for them without an income !
This is the group of Karen Tribal mahouts who have been affected from the COVID19 crisis . For most of them, the worry is plain on their face. Their village is in the remote area far away from the government center. Since they arrived home last month I have made a couple of trips to visit them, bringing food for the elephants and care packages for the mahouts. We arranged for a shelter of the mother and baby, as rainy season will soon begin in earnest. We are also working on a future plan for elephant food, to consider all potential environmental impacts, and to prepare an area for the elephant home.
We are trying to help them survive this difficult time. We discuss the future of their elephants. Soon I will share with you a positive plan. It takes a village to raise a child, and so many more united people to see the captive elephant through to a better life, hopeful and dignified.
The innocent elephants don’t know about the Coronavirus disease COVID-19 pandemic, they don’t know where they are going, they only knowing now they are free at home. It’s time to make plan for their future. We will find the best way to protect these beautiful creature.
They deserve a safe and bright future: How You Can Help the Herd How You Can Help