Coronavirus Crisis: Thailand’s Captive Elephants Need Help
When the Pandemic arrived, the whole world shut down along with it saw a complete halt in Thailand’s Tourism Sector. Thousands of elephants and mahouts (their caretakers) have been out of work since the end of March. Animal Rights Extremists are quite pleased the elephants are able to take a break from work, some sharing their thoughts on social media as if the pandemic is a blessing for elephants, but little do they understand what this truly means for a large majority of elephants and their owners/mahouts.
For many elephants, their welfare is greatly compromised at this time, more so now than before when they were working. Some elephants were lucky to return to their home villages in rural areas across the country for the owners to be able to feed them easier during this unprecedented crisis.
The biggest traditional elephant community here in the Northern region is based out of the Karen Village of Huay Pakuut in Maechaem. The people of Huay Pakuut concerned for their elephant’s wellbeing have moved most the elephant’s home (nearly 100 elephants) to try to ensure their elephant’s needs are met over this crisis period.
In the long term, this will become more and more challenging as the forest simply doesn’t have the capacity to home so many and the owners cannot survive with no income.
Now its rainy season some owners are planting food for the elephants to try to sustain the elephants’ upkeep longer. When tourism returns many will need to go back to facilities around Chiang Mai to make an income and for the elephants to have adequate living conditions.
While some elephants were lucky enough to return to their rural homes or already be living in suitable conditions, others are not so lucky and continue to live in poor conditions, receiving little to no exercise and stuck on 1-3 metre length chains in camps on the outskirts of the cities.
Since 1989 when the logging industry was banned a large majority of captive elephants have been used in tourism activities – mainly riding and shows. In most recent times more and more tourists have been moving away from mainstream tourism to a more ethical approach where elephants are being walked, fed, bathed and in some facilities have gone the extra step to remove interaction altogether and only allowing observing of elephants from a distance.
Ideally, elephants should be living a life as naturally as possible, sadly there is not enough forest left to simply just release elephants at this time. And due to human need and greed, the remaining habitats are under threat from burning, urbanization and agricultural practices.
Alternatives and solutions must be found to meet the needs of both elephants and their owners.
It’s hard to say what the future will hold for captive elephants if the Pandemic continues for much longer. One thing is for sure that as a symbol of Thailand and a huge part of the cultural heritage, they will not be forgotten. Many organizations have come together locally and from abroad to provide financial aid and assistance to elephants and those who care for them.
Many hope that post-pandemic more elephants will be able live in the forests and having a life away from serving humans, in order to do this we must all work to protect, preserve and re-generate their habitat. But while living in the forest isn’t realistic at this time for many elephants, ensuring high-quality care and improved conditions in tourism practice is possible.
BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary is one such place working towards a brighter future for Thailand’s captive elephants and encouraging high standards of care. Located in Maechaem, 2.5 hours South- West of Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is a place that has adopted a hands-off, no-touch policy for the retired elephants to live out their days just being elephants. This is a place where humans now work for them. Not only is this a retirement home for elephants, but BEES also has many rescued cats and dogs.
They believe that all beings matter and they do their best to help wherever they can e.g. Rubbish collection, English Programs, Community Projects, Domestic Animal Outreach – Spay/Neuter, preventative medicine (de-worming, rabies), Medical Care, rehabbing and releasing wildlife etc
In November of 2015, the Founders of BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, Pornchai Burm Rinkaew and Emily McWilliam were able to Establish BEES Elephant Foundation – BEF to help improve welfare for elephants and animals in Thailand, as well as support community-based initiatives that work to meet the needs of elephants, animals and communities that live and work with them. They have big plans for the future, but right now are still a small organization that is in the growth phase.
If you love elephants and would like to help elephants, you can visit small ethical elephant venues like BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, sponsor an elephant or donate to help through BEES Elephant Foundation https://www.paypal.me/BEESElephantFoundati
If you would like to help elephant owners directly and the traditional mahout communities such as Huay Pakuut Elephant Community you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/meet-an-elephant-and-help-the-community
Elephants are amazing, intelligent, social animals that deserve to live out their days receiving quality care. The captive situation is extremely complex, there is not one solution but many. The role of a mahout is an extremely dangerous one, but highly skilled professionals are vital for meeting the needs of elephants in captivity. In these challenging times please consider how you can help Thailand’s Elephants and the people who work with them during the crisis and into the future.