The order issued by Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana last Saturday (Mar 28) to close all zoos and other places where all kinds of animal shows are shown on the island affected about 28 elephant camps in Phuket, explains Louise Rogerson, who was instrumental in setting up the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the island’s first full no contact elephant reserve.
“The mass closure of the elephant camps in Phuket has left hundreds of elephants in danger of being chained up continuously at the camps,” says Louise, who has also worked with captive elephants in Thailand and Cambodia for over a decade and successfully spearheaded campaigns for their welfare and release and established the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival (EARS) Foundation. She is now the Project Director of newly founded Tree Tops Elephant Reserve in Phuket.
More dire is the concern that many elephants will suffer severe malnutrition from lack of food as owners will not be able to buy food for them, with no tourists paying for the privilege of feeding the majestic animals, she adds.
In Phuket alone, the order to close the camps and the lack of tourists has placed about 280 elephants at risk, she says.
“About 100 elephants from Phuket have already been taken to Phang Nga as there is more food there for the elephants,” Louise says, noting that about 180 elephants remain at risk in Phuket.
“We are very worried about the coming months. We rely solely on tourism for our financial income to feed our seven elephants at Tree Tops Elephant Reserve, and we are worried about the elephants at other camps, too,” she says.
“All the elephant camps and sanctuaries are now closed. Most of the camps that cater to Chinese visitors have been closed since early February.
“The elephants will now have time to rest from giving rides but this is bittersweet as most elephants will now be chained for long periods as there aren’t any customers and therefore no work,” she adds.
“It a very difficult and worrying situation for all the animal projects that rely on tourism for their income to feed their animals, pay their mahouts, tour guides, and staff.
“It’s expensive to feed elephants. The main source of grass is pineapple grass, most of which is brought from the mainland. The mahouts also go out to cut grasses, but it is getting scarce as the land is very dry. There is a shortage of water, and we are in a drought.
“At the moment we must focus on feeding our elephants at Tree Tops but we definitely would like to help the situation for all the elephants in Phuket too,” Louise adds.
The Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival (EARS) foundation has set up a fund to help provide provisions and care for elephants at risk, and Louise urges people to make donations through the foundation’s website: https://www.earsasia.org/donate
Meanwhile, Saengduean “Lek” Chailert, owner of Elephant Nature Park and founder of Save Elephant Foundation, believes many of the closures of elephant camps will be permanent.
“I have been to visit many of the camps and the situation is very serious,” she says.
The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai – and many other camps in Thailand – have closed their doors due to the current situation, which apart from resulting in unspeakable hardship for the elephants, could seriously hurt Thailand’s tourism industry in the future if no support is forthcoming soon.
“The elephants have been chained up since the tourists stopped coming. They are very stressed and upset. Some have started to attack each other from being chained up all day and several have bite wounds as they are fighting over food. The pregnant elephants are also stressed and not doing well at all,” says Khun Lek, who was also heavily involved in the founding of the Phuket Elephant Sancturary.
“If there is no support forthcoming to keep them safe, the elephants will either starve to death or may be put onto the streets to beg. Alternatively, some may be sold to zoos and some may be returned to the logging business (which officially banned the use of elephants in 1989 due to its cruel nature). It’s a very bleak outlook unless some financial help is received immediately,” said Lek in a release earlier this week.
At Elephant Nature Park, which houses more than 3,000 animals, many disabled or emotionally unstable, a frantic fund-raising effort is underway for food and medical needs. Some of the elephants need intensive, regular veterinary care.
On her Facebook post, Lek thanks donors, saying, “I have been in touch with more than 30 elephant camp owners to help them find a way out. My ability to help these animals is an extension of your generosity, I cannot do it without your help. There is no amount too big or too small to impact the lives of these animals. 100% of each donation is tax deductible and goes directly to Elephant Nature Park. I will share these donations with elephants in other camps as appropriate.”
HOW TO DONATE:
TRUNKS UP (https://jointrunksup.org) is a certified supporting organization which is currently MATCHING all donations, dollar for dollar, up to US$45,000. Donations can be made via the site.
Where the money will go:
US$30 will feed an elephant for a day
US$20 will feed a dog or cat for one week
US$10 will feed a pig, cow or buffalo for one week
US$8 will feed a monkey for one week
US$5 will feed a rabbit for one week