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Thailand's Tourism Elephants Allowed To Go Home As Work Dries Up

More than 100 elephants in Thailand have made the 150 kilometres journey home because the tourism industry has dried up during the pandemic.

The Save Elephant Foundation has been working in the northern province of Chiang May to promote the return of the elephant to their native areas.

Some of the elephants have not been back to their homeland in more than 20 years.

Lack of funds from tourists have meant owners can not afford to pay for the food and upkeep of the animals.

Some elephants have not returned home in 20 years. Image: Save Elephant Foundation

According to the U.K.-based World Animal Protection, as many as 2000 elephants in Thailand are at risk of starving to death because tourists parks can not pay for their feed.

An adult elephant can eat up to 136 kilograms of food — such as grass, root and fruit — each day.

Save Elephant Foundation also works to provide funds for those elephants which are still in tourist parks.

But 100 elephants have already made the journey back to Mae Chaem in Chiang Mai, where members of the Karen ethnic minority live and traditionally keep elephants.

The elephants walked 150 kilometres to the homeland. Image: Save Elephant Foundation

Saengduean Chailert, founder of Save Elephant, said it was at the owners’ request that the foundation helped with the move back home.

The foundation 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.

On Friday, the foundation it was helping owners to lease land and make sure a food source can be secured for the animals.

"We take part of the donation to support any elephant owner willing to work together with SEF, establishing sustainable grass plantations," it said on Facebook.

"Other than providing food for elephants, this also gives jobs to the local community, and limits intrusions into croplands and the forest."

Volunteers planting food sources. Image: Save Elephant Foundation

Already many camp owners, elephant keepers and local communities have agreed to join our project.

In the western part of Thailand, the foundation supports 155 elephant across 12 projects.

"Ganesha Park is one of the camps in the western region of Thailand who has been affected by the COVID19 crisis, starting from early February," SEF said.

"Ganesha has asked for help early in the Thailand tourist crisis."

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One owner, Sadudee Serichevee, who has four elephants, set up a small Karen Elephant Park based on the foundation’s approach.

But he has since lost hope since the coronavirus.

"At first I thought the situation would be back to normal within a month or two. At the end of April, I lost all hope," Sadudee said.

He and his wife have brought the elephants back to her village, Ban Huay Bong, because they could no longer afford the upkeep.

It costs about 200,000 baht (AU$9,500) a month to pay for food, rent of land and facilities and the salaries of the handlers, known as mahouts.

"These elephants have not had a chance to return home for 20 years,” Sadudee said.

“They seem to be very happy when arriving home, they make their happy noises, they run to the creek near the village and have fun along with our children.”

With AAP.