Save Elephant Foundation (SEF) and Elephant Nature Park (ENP)—founded by Saengduean Lek Chailert, is in a race against time to not only feed starving elephants but to also transition elephants across Thailand out of inhumane trekking camps forever. In the last few years, the cruelty behind training elephants to carry tourists on their backs (aka trekking) has begun to come to light thanks to many animal welfare organizations. However, the demand and trekking industry continue to exist. Training these elephants for the trekking industry involves force breeding of captive elephants and a brutal practice called phajaan or elephant crushing, where elephants are taken from their mothers, confined to a small space, and abused with bullhooks. They are starved and deprived of sleep in order to make them submissive to humans. Once this barbaric training is complete and the elephant’s spirit is broken they will then be used in the trekking industry. Elephants live in socially complex herds and need social interaction with other elephants but in the trekking camps, they are kept solitary.
Before Coronavirus began to spread, SEF founder Lek Chailert worked with elephant owners & elephant keepers known locally as mahouts on new ways to sustain themselves and their families without the use of these elephants for tourism activities such as riding, degrading performances, and street begging. In addition to educating tourists, Chailert focuses on moving camps toward an ethical and sanctuary-based model where elephant welfare is a priority. The progress is undeniable as SEF has engaged and transitioned more than 30 cruel trekking and performance camps to ethical programs where elephants are able to live their lives with dignity and respect.
Now with Covid-19 in the picture, the dialogue between Chailert and the mahouts has increased due to the fact there are no tourist dollars coming in. Mahouts and elephant program operators have quickly become aware of the catastrophic impact Covid-19 is having on unethical programs offering elephant riding and shows. While it is great that the elephants are free from trekking, they cannot be set free into the wild—contrary to common public misconception —and must still be fed and cared for due to the fact that they have been in captivity their entire lives. Feeding the elephants on the verge of starvation is the current focus of SEF but the organization also sees it as a key opportunity to open dialogue and ignite compassionate changes with elephant camp owners who have thus far been extremely resistant to converting to ethical models of elephant care.
SEF needs our help. Feeding one elephant, which eats ten percent of its body weight a day, costs $30 per day or $900 per month. At any given time, Save Elephant Foundation is feeding approximately 1,750 elephants—it’s an ongoing, critical need. Trunks Up, a partner 501c3 organization is spearheading a fundraiser to help. Anyone wanting to donate should visit http://spot.fund/
Planning for a sustainable future,SEF is working with the Thai government to release land so indigenous tribes can start to grow their own crops, feed themselves and their elephants, and earn income from the produce instead of animal tourism. Another source of revenue will be the burgeoning coffee producing industry. However, until that is initiated, SEF could use our help to feed and nourish these gentle giants.
“A path to a sustainable future is the only way we can protect these beautiful animals,” said Lek Chailert, founder of Save Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park. “We have a small window of opportunity to make this dream a reality and give Thailand’s elephants the life they deserve.”
Photo: Save Elephant Foundation