Elephant Parade is saddened by the news that domesticated elephants in Thailand could be at risk of starvation after COVID-19 closed the camps where they are kept. Elephant Parade makes structural donations to our charity partner, Elephant Family, who protect wild Asian elephants and to Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital, the home of Mosha. We're not official partners with any domestic elephant camps but we care deeply about all elephants and their well-being. In a search to understand the situation for domesticated elephants and how we can help camps, which are closed during the pandemic, we've interviewed Lucy Field of Trunk



Since the global COVID-19 crisis, what is the situation for elephants in Asia, especially Thailand? 


Lucy: In all honesty, the situation is not good. Not good at all. There are 3500+ elephants and their mahouts all being affected due to this crisis. All elephant homes across Thailand are currently closed. There are no tourists, which is what all survived off to bring in an income. No public financial aid or support has been provided. Many elephant homes have had to let go of the elephants they supported. Meaning the elephant and the mahouts must return to wherever they came from. A few days ago, there was tragic news that a distressed and scared elephant trampled an unfortunate man to death as it was being kept in the city in someone's backyard. Many domestic elephants will be chained up most of the time. Serious help is needed.



What can we do from the safety of our homes to support captive elephants? 


Lucy: There are many platforms you can donate to. But please be careful where you donate. You need to make sure the money is going where shelters state. Lots of funds will go to the larger, more well-known elephant homes. This is great as it'll support them and the elephant homes under their umbrella. But many domestic elephants aren't under this umbrella and need the support too. 


That's where Trunk comes in as we work with the smaller elephant homes. We have an amazing initiative that we want to take global to help all animals in sanctuaries. #DateWithAnElephant. It is a personal unique 30-minute virtual slot where you get up close with elephants. Learning about Asian elephants and seeing them fed. We wanted to think of something to help everyone during this crisis. Our idea allows people to ask questions directly and get an immediate answer. As well as being a distraction from being in lockdown, it's educational and fun for the whole family. 





How does a "date with an elephant" work? 


If you pop on to the Trunk Facebook page you'll see a pinned post about it. There you will see the booking link where you book the day and the time slot you'd like to have the date at. You can tell us what platform you'd like to receive the call from. It could be WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype and FaceTime. Some people have connected their phones to their TV to get a bigger screen. One of the Trunk team will then call you at the chosen time for your 30-minute date. We'll tell you about Trunk, the elephant home you're at, then teach you about Asian elephants. You'll learn how much they eat, weigh, their height, muscles in their trunk, how far they can see, hear as well as much more. You'll also get introduced to each individual elephant and find out their name, age, background and personality. Some of the elephant homes we support have young babies others have very old elephants. 




We've had a family join us from 6 different homes into one call from Australia. It was lovely as they couldn't be together due to COVID-19 but were able to come together through this virtual date for a family experience. We have also had a young girls Birthday party. Her party was cancelled, so the family enjoyed this instead. It was amazing. Made us all cry. It's very easy to set up a date during this period as it can all be done from your phone at home. There's no need to go anywhere at all. 




What will happen to domestic elephants if there are no funds for their care? 


Lucy: Malnutrition, starvation, deaths, elephants back on the streets begging. Owners might be forced to make their elephants go back to the streets for begging to bring in funds needed to support the food the elephants need, which is anywhere from 200-300kg a day! Plus if we have no funds for elephant veterinarians, who will be able to treat the elephants when eventually all the elephants need care due to eating such poor quality food? This is already happening due to lack of funds and poor crops. The worst case is that elephant parts could be sold on the black market. This is a serious crisis, and solutions need to be offered to support the elephant community until tourism opens up again, which could possibly be not till the end of the year. 



Why do domesticated elephants need to be in camps, why not release them into the wild?


Lucy: Thai captive elephants have 4000 years of domestication. This means generation after generation in captivity. If all these captive elephants were simply released tomorrow, they would walk into populated areas which would cause deaths, for elephants and humans. Plus, unfortunately, due to habitat loss, there isn't the space to realise an extra 3,500+ elephants into the wild. The wild elephants in Thailand are already suffering from deforestation and walking into populated areas to get food due to a lack of natural food right now. We're experiencing an awful dry period without rain for many months. 


Elephants are essential for the ecosystem, though. With everything happening now, it should be the push we all need to think more consciously. Change needs to happen. Especially when it comes to animals, the current situation should encourage elephant homes to change and adapt to the interaction they have with their elephants and tourists. Sadly there are still a few unethical elephant camps out there or ones that claim they are ethical when they're not. But lots are already moving with the times and taking positive steps in the right direction. Trunk will help any elephant home that needs advice on how to better their place. It's time for the elephant community to pull together and support each other. 


Here are some useful links:

Trunk Donations Page. Trunk will use this money to support the smaller elephants we take care of as well as others in need.

Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital - the world's first elephant hospital in Mae Yao National Reserve, Lampang, Thailand.

GTAEF is also doing set times for live-streaming. We love this idea and Trunk support John Roberts and his team. They have times when you can see vet checks and touch training. 

Thai Elephant Alliance  - Thai organisation raising funds to help smaller elephant homes get food and vets checks. 

Thailand Elephants  - Wonderful group of ladies helping those at home learn how to help elephants out in Thailand. 

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