After 14 months without income from tourism, and COVID cases rising, Thailand’s captive elephants face prolonged peril.
“For sale: 11 clever elephants. 3 million baht each,” Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri, Thailand, announced in an ad on Facebook on May 29. That’s about $96,000 apiece.
The zoo makes money from tourists through admission tickets, elephant rides, and animal shows, but with Thailand closed to most foreign visitors (or requiring mandatory quarantine) since March 2020 because of the coronavirus, it’s facing a financial crisis. In a Facebook post on May 28 about its elephant problem, the zoo also said that “at this point, to close the wounds from COVID, we need to sell [them] out.”
It’s a similar story across the country. Some 3,800 elephants live in captivity in Thailand, many in camps, zoos, and sanctuaries. Some camps rent their elephants from individual owners and now, unable to afford the costs of keeping them on, have had to send the animals and their caretakers, or mahouts, away. Other camps still have their elephants but are struggling to feed and care for them, leaving many isolated and hungry. Across the industry, people are doing everything they can to hang on.