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Thailand: Elephants’ mass migration to village brings new stress

Thailand: Elephants’ mass migration to village brings new stress

As the coronavirus hits global travel, Thailand had to close many of the parks in mid-March. Consequently, some 3,000 Thai domesticated elephants have been unemployed, moreover, many of these giants are at risk of starvation. They have been brought home, says the Thai Elephant Alliance Association.

In Thailand, a thousand elephants threatened by starvation have journeyed through the northern hills, making a slow migration home from tourist sites forced shut by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Thai northern village of Huay Pakoot remains a home for some of the elephants. Here used to live several generations of ethnic Karen mahouts — or elephant handlers. these unique people have been rearing the giant mammals for four centuries.

But it is around tourist hub Chiang Mai, 180 kilometres away, that many mahouts and their elephants work, performing money-spinning tricks for foreigners in amusement parks or “sanctuaries”.

Some of the controversial camps employ abusive methods to “break” and train the elephants, who earn their keep by entertaining busloads of tourists eager for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“They are tired but rather happy,” Thai mahouts confirmed.

In fact, elephants are known for their good memory. It seems that after years of absence they know they are finally coming home. Thus, about 1,000 elephants and their mahouts have returned to their villages in the past two months, said Theerapat Trungprakan, head of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association.

“Such a big migration over such a short period of time is unprecedented in this country,” Trungprakan said but added the homecoming is not without problems.

The village Huay Pakoot normally has fewer than 10 elephants in it. Today, more than 90 are living alongside 400 villagers.

The vast forests surrounding the village have been cleared to make room for the cultivation of corn and there is nothing to support the needs of such a large herd.

More grass, bananas, and sugarcane crops will have to be planted if the outbreak goes on much longer, the local people noted.