In the village of Ban Ta Klang in northeastern Thailand, Siriporn Sapmak starts the day by live-streaming two elephants. Social media Collect money to survive.
23 years old who is indebted elephant Since she was in school, she points her phone at animals to feed them bananas and roams around the back of her family’s house.
Siriporn says a few hours of live streaming on TikTok and YouTube can raise around 1,000 baht ($27.46), enough to feed her two elephants for a day. quantity.
It’s a new and precarious source of income for families who made money by putting on elephant shows in Pattaya City, Thailand before the pandemic.
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 effectively brought foreign tourism to a halt. . Only 400,000 foreign tourists arrived in Thailand last year, compared to nearly 40 million in 2019.
One day, Siriporn doesn’t receive donations and her elephant doesn’t get enough to eat.
“We want tourists to[return]. If they do come back, we may not do these livestreams anymore,” she said.
“If I can go back to work, I will have a (steady) income so I can buy grass for the elephants to eat.”
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Edwin Week, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, estimates that at least 1,000 elephants in Thailand will not 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, it would be difficult 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 half a million kilograms of grass to several states to feed elephants, according to the Livestock Development Authority, which oversees captive elephants.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Thailand’s national animal, the elephant, eats between 150 and 200 kg of food each day.
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 the elephants and their caretakers and that “measures will be proposed to the Cabinet along with the budget”, but did not give a timeframe.
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.
“Who has the money now to arrange the trucks…and what assurances do they have that they’re really going to be in business again when they get back?” said Weeks. rice field.
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.”
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