With decreasing numbers of foreign visitors in Thailand, not only people but also commercial elephants lost their jobs which depend on the tourist industry.
Camps and sanctuaries have sent more than 100 of the animals as far as 150 kilometres back to their homes.
The Save Elephant Foundation in the northern province of Chiang Mai has been promoting the elephants’ return to the greener pastures of home. The foundation supports fundraising appeals to feed animals still housed at tourist parks, but also believes it is good for them to return to their natural habitat where they can be more self-sufficient.
The situation is critical. London-based World Animal Protection says as many as 2,000 tame elephants are at risk of starvation because their owners are unable to feed them.
Since last month, more than 100 of the animals have marched from all over Chiang Mai to their homeland of Mae Chaem, which is dotted with villages where members of the Karen ethnic minority live and traditionally keep elephants.
Save Elephant’s founder, Saengduean Chailert, said the project to bring unemployed elephants home was launched in response to appeals from their owners.
Her group promotes settling elephants where they can live alongside villagers in sustainable eco-friendly communities. It believes the animals are abused at many high-profile tourist attractions.
The project is also active in the northeastern province of Surin, famous for its annual elephant festival. The province’s Tha Tum district, home to hundreds of elephants, welcomed about 40 of them back last month.
“We don’t know when COVID-19 will go away,” said Save Elephant’s Saengduean. “So this is our task, to help feed the elephants that were laid off because of the outbreak.”