Some years ago, we wrote about young elephants being captured in the wilds of northern Myanmar and Laos to be sold to alleged elephant reserves in the southern Yunnan province of China. It should come as no surprise that very little land in densely populated China can be devoted to providing elephants a sanctuary with sufficient plant life to support the dietary needs of these wonderful creatures. Therefore, no one should be shocked that the elephants are leaving their captive homes in search of a better habitat and food. The elephants shown below left their “sanctuary” a year ago and began a three-hundred-mile trek in search of a better life.
Had they gone south toward their former homes in the mountains they might have found a more suitable place to reside. As the image below illustrates, they are rather young indicating that they were likely captured at an age they could be controlled and lack the wisdom to find a proper home. On the other hand, those that were originally captured in Myanmar could be wary of returning to the mess there following a military coup overthrowing the elected government. No need to be in a hurry to return to a failed state.
At this juncture, the fifteen elephants have caused on the order of a $1 million in crop damages as they favor corn and tropical fruit. However Kunming, which is a city of 8 million people, is not a proper home for this roving group. The Chinese authorities have shown restraint and line the roads with fruit to keep the herd away from crops. Moreover, they have warned farmers not to use firecrackers to frighten them. In the meantime, they monitor the movements of the herd deploying drones and a special team of emergency response personnel.
Much further south in Hua Hin province in southern Thailand, another elephant situation developed that has seemed to evolve into a symbiotic relationship. The Kittichai family live in a jungle setting near the Kaeng Krachan National Park where wild elephants often bathe in the nearby lake. On one occasion the family woke to sounds of clatter in their kitchen. A bull elephant was rummaging through their kitchen looking for a late-night snack. The family was unperturbed by the visitor and recently Khun Kittichai posted on Facebook that the elephant had come back “to cook again.” There is no need to close up a “walk-in window” as elephants are pretty much unstoppable so, in the typical “mai pen rai—never mind” Thai attitude, one might as well live with the situation as these folks seem to be doing.
A popular commentary is that all domesticated elephants should be returned to the wild. Unfortunately, very little “wild” remains. Therefore, we believe a more logical approach is the one supported by The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and The Elephant Story. In the Baan Ta Klang village, home to some three hundred elephants, each family typically has two to three elephants. These tribal village residents have been “elephant people” for some two thousand years. We lend a hand to the village by supporting two native-speaking English teachers to improve the education of the students so they can have an opportunity to attend university. Further, the health of the domesticated elephants is addressed by a veterinarian we support there.
I took this image from the porch of a local resident where we were staying. The village has a small market where local handicrafts are sold and visitors can have the opportunity to interact with elephants. Moreover, English language capability opens the spectrum of communicating with foreign visitors though that trade has suffered during the pandemic. The older school children process Black Ivory Coffee with the help of village elephants and earn spending money.
In the image below, a villager is taking a stroll with a mother and baby elephant. You will note the Thai word “Chang” on his shirt which means elephant. It is also the name of a popular Thai beer. It could be he is on his way to town to pick up a couple bottles of Chang to quench his thirst.
Baan Ta Klang is a somewhat isolated place near the Thai border with Cambodia. The challenge is to provide the people some assistance to support themselves and their elephants which are clearly part of their families. The Thai government has a modest subsidy program which was created to attract elephant owners to return home and not beg on the streets of major Thai cities. On a longer-term perspective, we believe education will improve the lives of the villagers as well as their elephants which are considered members of their families.