The COVID-19 pandemic has left Thailand’s captive elephant population in a dire situation, forcing many of them to return to their home villages as the tourist industry that once sustained them vanished. One family affected by this crisis is the Sapmak family, who, like thousands of other elephant owners in Thailand, had to return to their village as the pandemic decimated their livelihood.
The loss of tourism has had a severe impact on elephant welfare in Thailand, as many venues have struggled to feed their animals. According to a report by World Animal Protection, the food costs for all elephants in Thailand alone are staggering. As a result, captive elephants have been subjected to poor living conditions, inadequate food, and medical care.
Since the nationwide logging ban in 1989, captive elephants and their mahouts (handlers) have depended on tourism for their survival. However, with the pandemic causing a significant decrease in tourist numbers, many of these majestic creatures are now facing an uncertain future.
The mushrooming tourist industry in Thailand has led to the distortion of traditional elephant keeping practices, and many captive elephants have been subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions. Therefore, the pandemic might offer a silver lining, as it offers an opportunity to revise the traditional relationship between captive elephants and their mahouts.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on Thailand’s captive elephants, forcing many of them to return to their birth villages amid food struggles. The current situation offers a unique opportunity to address the long-standing issue of captive elephant welfare in Thailand in a more sustainable and humane way. As a society, we need to act urgently to ensure that the majestic elephants that have been part of Thailand’s cultural heritage for generations receive the care and respect they deserve.