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Unemployed elephants: Some return to the wild, others sent to work in logging business

Caitlin Ashworth

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PHOTO: Caitlin Ashworth

The drop in tourism has had a huge impact on the elephants in Northern Thailand, leaving many elephants, you could say, unemployed. While some elephants are out of business and been taken back to their natural habitat, others are struggling in captivity and might be sent off to work in animal labour which some people may deem as unethical.

A reporter from BBC Thailand follow a group of elephants making the trek and spoke with those in the ‘elephant’ business. You can watch the video HERE. One owner, who goes by the name Uncle Eddy, told BBC, if the tourism industry doesn’t pick up soon, he will hand over his 57 elephants to a logging business in Myanmar.

The video from BBC Thailand showed Uncle Eddy’s elephants on short chains standing in a cement outdoor structure. He said if the elephants don’t work, then they don’t get exercise. Without exercise, the pregnant elephants would have trouble giving birth and the babies would eventually die, according to his commentary.

Thailand has a variety of elephant camps and sanctuaries. There is continuous debate on how elephants should be cared for in captivity. Some establishments keep elephants on a short chain, only to be taken out for rides or shows. Some businesses describing themselves as sanctuaries have elephants roaming the property and allow tourist to feed and bathe the animals. This ‘ethical’ model is becoming more popular with some of the tourism demographics visiting Thailand in the past.

The Chiang Mai-based Save Elephant Foundation started a project to return some of the elephants back to their natural habitats, Thai PBS World reports. From April to May, more than 100 elephants trekked north from Chiang Mai to Mae Chaem, a 150 kilometre trek.

BBC followed a small group of elephants led by the Save Elephant Foundation and said the elephants became very thirsty and some seemed to be “low on energy”. The charity’s founder, Lek Chailert, says the pandemic is a chance to get elephants out of the tourism industry.

“Tourists would be swamping into Thailand. The Covid-19 pandemic will give us time to think.”

SOURCES: BBC Thailand | Thai PBS World

 

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Caitlin Ashworth is a writer from the United States who has lived in Thailand since 2018. She graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies in 2016. She was a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette In Massachusetts. She also interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida.

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