In the village of Bang Ta Klang in northeastern Thailand, Siriporn Sapmak starts the day by live-streaming two elephants on social media. She does this to raise funds for her survival.
The 23-year-old, who has been caring for elephants since she was in school, points her phone at the animals while she feeds them bananas and they roam the back of her parents’ house.
Siriporn says she can raise about 1,000 baht ($27.46) from a few hours of live streaming on TikTok and YouTube, enough to feed her two elephants for a day. is.
It’s a new, precarious source of income for families who earned money by putting on elephant shows in Pattaya City, Thailand, before the pandemic. They sell fruit to increase their income.
Like thousands of other elephant owners across the country, the Sapmak family had to return to their native village after the pandemic devastated elephant camps and brought to a halt foreign tourism destinations. Only 400,000 foreign tourists arrived in Thailand last year, compared to his nearly 40 million in 2019.
One day, Siriporn doesn’t receive donations and her elephant doesn’t get enough to eat.
“We are tourists [return]”If they come back, we may not do these livestreams anymore,” she said. [stable] Income to buy grass for elephants to eat. “
Edwin Week, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, estimates that Thailand’s at least 1,000 elephants won’t be able to make a “adequate income” until more tourists return. increase.
According to government agencies, Thailand has about 3,200 to 4,000 captive elephants and about 3,500 wild elephants.
Vik said the Livestock Development Authority needs to find “some kind” of funding to support these elephants.
“Otherwise, I think it’s hard for most families to keep them alive,” he said.
The family in Ban Ta Klang, Thailand’s elephant business hub in Surin province, has a close relationship with elephants, having been caring for them for generations.
Elephant shows and rides have long been popular with tourists, especially the Chinese, but animal rights groups’ criticism of how elephants are treated has sparked tourism at the reserve.
“We are tied together like a family.
“Without elephants, we don’t know what our future will be.
Since 2020, the government has sent 500 tons of grass to several states to feed the elephants, according to the Livestock Development Authority, which oversees captive elephants.
Thailand’s national animal, the elephant, eats 150-200 kg (330-440 lbs) each day, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
However, Siriporn and her mother said they have not received any government assistance yet.
“This is a big national issue,” said Sorawit Thanit, director general of the Livestock Development Department.
He said the government plans to help elephants and their caretakers, and without specifying a timeframe, “measures along with the budget will be proposed to the Cabinet.”
The government expects 10 million foreign tourists this year, but given the cost, some say it may not be enough to lure elephant owners back to the top tourist destinations. . Chinese tourists, the mainstay of the elephant show, have also yet to return amid COVID-19 lockdowns at home.
“To have the money to arrange the truck right now…and how much security [do] Do you think they’re really going to be in business again when they get back?” asks Veek.
He expected more elephants to be born in captivity within the next year, exacerbating the pressure on owners.
“Some days I make some money, some days I don’t make any money, which means less food on the table,” says Pensuri. “I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”