Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and strict travel bans in place throughout Asia, Thailand’s elephants have sadly been left starving due to lack of money generated by tourism.
WAN talked with elephant whisperer and prominent conservationist, Lek Chailert, who is the Founder of Save The Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park located in Northern Thailand, about the dire situation and her new partnership with the Gentle Giants Stay At Home Project.
“Ninety percent of the elephants in Thailand work in tourism as riding elephants, begging elephants, or work in the logging industry. Their owners and mahouts are struggling to feed them because there are no tourists in Thailand due to the pandemic,” Lek told WAN.
Lek has been asked by her opposition, including elephant riding camps and logging businesses, for her expertise and help. She and her team have been visiting the camps and feeding the working elephants trying to convince the owners to set their elephants free to established sanctuaries. In one case, she helped to free 78 working elephants.
Lek is also offering to help convert elephant riding camps and logging businesses into elephant sanctuaries. This will not only help the elephants, but also the mahouts and owners of these businesses that will in turn attract people who want to see these beautiful elephants in their natural habitat and not contribute to the exploitation of these gentle giants for entertainment.
Lek and the Gentle Giants Stay At Home Project helps to support the mahouts who look after the elephants and hopes to raise $350 per month per mahout, as well as $50 per year per elephant for their adoption. Lek explained that it costs $130,000 per month to feed and care for all of the elephants that she and her team have rescued from tourism.
As of this week, Lek and the Gentle Giants Stay At Home Project are also trying to help baby elephants who have been left in horrible conditions forced to beg on the streets of Thailand for money. Lek is currently in conversations with the owners of these baby elephants in an effort to save them from the terrible living conditions they have to endure.
In an industry steeped in tradition, advocating for positive change in the ways that domestic and wild Asian elephants are treated has not been an easy battle. However, with hard work and determination, Lek’s voice is now internationally recognized.
Lek, who also works to change laws to protect elephants and educate people and tourists around the world to not contribute to the exploitation of elephant riding, encourages people to visit Thailand to experience the rescued elephants for themselves, as well as to volunteer to help them.