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"In Thailand, where 2K elephants have been held in tourist camps, elephant tourism is usually a lucrative & booming industry, but the absence of tourists has created a new animal welfare crisis; Abandonment & Starvation! “.... Covid has exacerbated all the problems we’ve been raising for years & now elephants are dying.” The crisis has caused the price of elephants in Thailand to drop dramatically, according to Lek Chailert. She is worried that elephants will no longer be kept by the families who had looked after them for generations – that they would be sold off cheaply to big companies. Elephants remaining in Thailand’s camps, are chained for long periods. “They are depressed and they get so frustrated they attack each other,” said Lek. Some camps have reduced the number of mahouts, so there are fewer people attending the elephants’ needs. The silver lining? With this interruption we are given an amazing opportunity to finally bring an end to animal exploitation in tourism. For the100's of elephants who have returned home with their mahouts, the coronavirus pandemic may have provided the chance to frolic in the jungles and rivers of their birth. Many people now hope that even when the tourists return, these elephants will remain resettled in their natural habitat for good." ~ The Guardian
When COVID-19 temporarily shut the tourist industry in Thailand, Gentle Giants Nonprofit, in partnership with Lek Chailert (Save Elephant Foundation) took advantage of the timely opportunity to work with the elephant handlers who had started the long journey back to their villages. In doing so, they developed a plan to meet the needs of both elephants and communities.
Gentle Giants overall goal was simple: To keep the elephants safely there. Hence the Gentle Giant Stay Home Project (GGSHP) was launched June 14, 2020.
This plan allowed both men and elephants to benefit:
- The mahouts (handlers) would still be employed, plus they would earn fair wages and stay with their families;
- The elephants would no longer be forced to work in the tourist and logging industry, nor would they be chained again. Instead, they would roam around freely in the forest together with other elephants;
- The communities would welcome their men and elephants back and learn a new way to relate to the gentle giants while earning an income through farming and food supply.
Through Gentle Giants Stay Home 100+ elephants have been able to safely stay at their villages. These formerly-abused elephants enjoy abundant, healthy food and water; periodic checkups by veterinarians; daily life in the forest and the precious opportunity to keep the herds together. They are now living more peacefully, without being exploited or mistreated by the tourist industry as they once were. They spend their days at the forest, reconnecting to Mother Nature, just being elephants.
The ripple effect has been a tremendous reward. It is not only about providing security and protection for 100+ elephants to live peacefully, but also creating job opportunities and a source of income for many of the local villagers. The environment has benefited, too. Gentle Giants Stay Home has helped with reforestation and protecting forest ecosystems. But the most rewarding experience has been seeing the elephants thrive and seeing them behave like elephants. At the same time, being able to help so many Thai families and local farmers while keeping the gentle giants safe has been really gratifying. GGSHP has provided work opportunities, helped local farmers, help hundreds of human beings and kept the gentle giants safe.
What have been the biggest challenges encountered so far?
Aside from the myriad roadblocks that animal welfare activists experience in any country, like legislation or lack thereof, politics, culture, tradition, etc, the most challenging thing is not being able save all of those who need saving. Many elephants still stand chained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some have even been abandoned. Several have died from starvation and/or lack of care. Unfortunately, the lack of funds means many applicants are turned away. There just isn’t enough money to help all who want to join this project. Funds are limited.
How can you help Asian elephants from afar?
Thailand is amongst the 15 countries in the world that has been the most affected by the lack of tourism. It has also had a loss of USD $ 47 billion in GDP from its tourist industry revenue.* Hundreds -if not thousands- of elephants are in desperate need for help. Here’s what you can do today: · Sponsor an elephant and help them stay in their own habitats with their herd and caretakers. · Sponsor a baby elephant so that they can stay safely together with their mothers. · Help build an elephant shelter to keep them secure at night and have a place to rest after their day in the forest. · Add Gentle Giants Stay Home Project to your Amazon Smile account at no cost to you. Simply add it as your preferred charity and Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to Gentle Giants.
“Join the journey and be a part of the change! GG has an amazing opportunity to change the lives of elephants and humans alike with the Gentle Giants Stay Home Project.”