Elephants have been a symbol of Thailand since ancient times. These majestic creatures are part of our national identity. For many Thais, elephants live among them and have walked alongside their forefathers. Wild elephants in Thailand roam in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries not accessible or partially accessible to tourists. Domesticated elephants are in the care of their keepers and often found in camps. Dependent on the usually thriving tourism industry, which is their main source of income, the elephant camps have been adversely affected by Thailand’s lockdown and other efforts to contain the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The industry is now reeling from the effects. The all-round support that came like a flood from the public and private sectors has helped make the elephants and their keepers withstand the ordeal.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched a project to help the kingdom’s elephants make it through the tourist-depleted COVID-19 times, which is “Help Community, Help Elephant, Help Nation”. The project has instigated a collaboration between all governmental organisations in Thailand related to elephants before setting in motion a public and private sector effort that is directing assistance both to the elephant camps themselves and the communities that grow crops for the elephants. So far, the project has attracted over 100 camps and helped over 1,450 privately-own elephants nationwide. Various organisations with expertise in elephant welfare are also involved in the initiative.
Associations and foundations and other similar groups have also taken to social media to plead the case of Thailand’s vulnerable elephants during the COVID-19 crisis. Along with their online appeals, they are also taking the opportunity to provide information on the elephant experiences normally on offer to tourists; such as, the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort’s Walking with Giants and Elephant Learning Experience programmes.
The Thai Elephant Alliance Association is one organisation which is acting to help the elephant camps and domesticated elephants around the country. Its efforts include the launch of a donation channel from which funds are used to buy food and medicine and has so far helped over 1,460 elephants, and trips by a veterinarian team to check on the health of elephants who have returned to their homes. As well as money, the Association is also acting as a centre for food donations.
Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park is offering virtual tours via a streaming platform LazLive through which its elephants can be viewed live. The initiative helps in the wellbeing of the elephants and supports local communities. The tours promote the Drink Coffee, Save Elephants campaign in which the profits from the sales of the locally grown ENP Coffee go to support the activities of the Save Elephant Foundation.
In the Southern part of Thailand, the Southern Thailand Elephant Foundation or STEF, a UK registered internationally-focussed charity supplies food for elephants and has been dispatching laden trucks throughout the Southern region. Their appeal has raised over 270,000 Thai Baht in donations with the money going to help provide the vital assistance to Thailand’s elephants.
A number of the country’s elephant camps come under government agencies; such as, the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang which was founded in 1993 under Royal Patronage. Together with educational institutes for veterinary science, a mobile elephant ambulance unit with a veterinary team is arranged to provide free treatment for sick elephants and care for elephants in remote areas throughout Thailand.
Next door is Lampang’s famous Elephant Hospital whose mission it is to care for sick elephants free of charge whether they be from camps or individual owners. It also takes care of confiscated, old and fierce elephants, abandoned baby elephants and helps manage elephants in musth.
The history of Thai elephants is intertwined with the history of the Thai people. And in these times when help is needed, it is met. A debt of gratitude is owed to the support and contributions of the public and private organisations, as well as individual donors that pull the Thai elephants through.