Hundreds of tamed elephants in Thailand who lived in captivity and depended on the tourism for food have been moved back to their homes as COVID-19 continues to affect the tourism industry in the country.
About 2,000 elephants are reportedly at risk of starvation as their owners cannot feed them, according to the London-based World Animal Protection, Associated Press
Over 100 elephants have marched from Chiang Mai to their homeland of Mae Chaem where the Karen ethnic minority lives and traditionally keeps the elephants.
The Save Elephant Foundation, which supports fundraising to help feed the animals living in tourist parks, believes it is good for the animals to return to their natural habitat where they can be more self-sufficient. Founder Saengduean Chailert said the project to bring back the elephants to their homes was launched as a response to owners.
Sadudee Serichevee, who owns four elephants at his small Karen Elephant Experience park in Chiang Mai’s Mae Wang district, did not expect his business would be severely hit by the pandemic.
“At first I thought the situation would be back to normal within a month or two. At the end of April, I lost all hope,” the owner, who followed the foundation’s approach when he set up his park, said.
Sadudee and his wife convinced other owners to make the 150 kilometers (93 miles) trek on foot with the elephants as they could no longer afford all the expenses of keeping them. Close to 200,000 Thai baht ($6,250) covers the land rental and facilities, salaries for the handlers or “mahouts” and food. Elephants can reportedly “eat as much as 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of vegetables and grass per day.”
The caravan, which consists of 11 elephants, their owners and the mahouts, began their trek on April 30 and only arrived at Ban Huay Bong on May 4.
“These elephants have not had a chance to return home for 20 years. They seem to be very happy when arriving home, they make their happy noises, they run to the creek near the village and have fun along with our children,” Sadudee said.
In April, 40 elephants returned to Tha Tum district, in the northeastern province of Surin.
“We don’t know when COVID-19 will go away,” Saengduean said. “So this is our task, to help feed the elephants that were laid off because of the outbreak.”