Animal group donates $110,000 to feed elephants in crisis and is seeking to do more
Chiang Mai, Thailand – The Center for a Humane Economy, a global non-profit with a focus on working with businesses and government to improve their treatment of animals, is launching an “Elephants in Crisis” campaign to deliver food relief to as many as 3,000 starving elephants, conscripted into a tourism trade that has bottomed out after the pandemic hit and left their custodians with little capacity to meet their fundamental needs. An adult Asian elephant consumes up to 300 pounds of food a day, and with many of the elephants getting just a fraction of that amount for months, they are suffering and, in some cases, perishing.
The group is donating $110,000 to a Thailand-based elephant protection organization to bring relief, thanks to a generous gift from a pair of U.S.-based supporters.
“This is one of the most acute short-term crisis situations elephants face in the world today,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. “To varying degrees in Asia and in Africa, wild elephants face threats from trophy hunting, poaching, and habitat destruction. But captive elephants in Thailand — the nation with more captive elephants than any other — are starving. They need food right now.”
The Center for a Humane Economy (Center) will make an initial grant to Elephant Nature Park, a Thailand-based elephant sanctuary and welfare organization, that has already demonstrated capacity to buy and distribute locally grown food. The Center will work with any legitimate Thai-based sanctuaries and elephant protection groups that have capacity to work on the project. A web page set up by the Center features recently recorded images of shrunken elephants tethered on chains and to metal poles.
Elephant Nature Park, led by Lek Chailert, has been caring for elephants for decades and has for the past several months been conducting some food distribution and assistance during this crisis. Even if it attracts generous support from concerned citizens around the world, the nonprofit sector alone, however, will not be able to scale up sufficiently to deal with the magnitude of the present crisis. That’s why the Center will do its best to engage the Thai government and seek its advice and support for this relief effort.
“It takes $30 to feed an elephant for a day, $210 for a week, $1,000 a month, and $11,000 a year,” said Jennifer McCausland, director of Elephant Protection Programs for the Center. “We ask people to go to our website to donate and to allow us to deliver support to Thai-based advocates who will get food to the elephants.”
The Center works with businesses and governments to promote better treatment of animals, in this case seeking refocus elephant-based tourism away from elephant rides and more toward humane elephant-based experiences at sanctuaries. It has appealed to the Thailand authorities to assist toward that transition to more humane-minded businesses centered around elephants, who have a prominent place in the culture of Thailand. It has also asked the government to continue to allow the transfer of some distressed elephants to move to established and humane animal sanctuaries, where there may be additional capacity to take them in and provide relief and acceptable care.
Asian elephants are classed as “endangered” under U.S. law, with perhaps only 40,000 – 50,000 surviving in the wild. Thailand is estimated to have had as many as 4,500 captive elephants, many of them formerly working to drag logs out of the forest felled by timber companies. But that kind of intensive clearing of forests has waned, and private tourism companies conscripted thousands of elephants into the tourism industry. Some of the elephants carry as many as a dozen people on their back and work long days, with little relief or proper care.
Legitimate sanctuaries can employ more Thai citizens with elephant care experience and be marketed as tourism destinations for visitors to Thailand and over time replace the elephant rides and other activities that underserve the elephants. Prior to the pandemic, there had been as many as 250 elephant “camps,” providing rides and river bathing with captive elephants.