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Rescuing elephants: An interview with Thai Elephant Alliance Association VP, Mr Kid – Environmental Law



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Gone are the days, when tourists in Thailand would flock to
parks to ride elephants on a so-called safari, with a keeper, or
mahout, strolling beside the large pachyderm brandishing a metal
hook they used to prod the animal to keep it walking in the right
direction.

Indeed, World Animal Protection
in August last year
reported that its Thai team was leading a
group of specialists, nongovernment organisations, academics and
government representatives in drafting elephant protection
legislation to stop cruelty towards domestic elephants.

Thailand is the only nation in the world that classifies
elephants as either wild or domestic. And there are 27 pre-existing
laws to ensure that elephants are protected. However, when it comes
to the domesticated kind, the legislation doesn’t always cover
them.

Elephant riding tourism died a natural death, as people’s
perception morphed from that of pure entertainment to animal
cruelty, although the practice still occurs in hidden pockets.

So, the Elephant Act aims to close these legal loopholes that
see riding and performance shows continue, while it also intends to
prop up “elephant-friendly venues”.

Colonised
forests

Thai Elephant
Alliance Association
vice president Mr Kid advises that the
elephants used in the riding tourism industry that developed over
the last decades of the twentieth century weren’t taken from
the wild, but rather they were the descendants of the region’s
British established logging industry.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the British, who
had colonised neighbouring Myanmar, cut a favourable deal for
themselves with the Siamese monarchy, whereby rather than
colonising the local peoples, it would colonise the forests for
logging.

So, the Brits employed elephants, which had been domesticated by
locals for centuries, to drag the teak logs they were hoarding. And
at the height of its operations, the British controlled 80 percent of logging lands and
the Royal Forest Department was headed by a Brit.

British logging activities in Thailand continued for more than
70 years. And after they exited, the local industry proceeded until
it was banned in 1989. This left behind a heavily deforested
country and a surplus of elephants that had become dependent upon
people.

Rescued from
harm

In March, the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and
Plant Conservation launched
a 10-year action plan
to ensure the protection of wild
elephants living in national parks. The Asian elephant is
endangered, and in Thailand, this is due to logging having
destroyed much of their habitat.

Along with heading up the TEAA, Mr Kid runs an elephant rescue
park, where he and his colleagues care for elephants that have been
mistreated via ongoing employment in logging, riding parks and
circuses. And while he funds his operation via short walking tours,
riding is completely off limits.


Sydney Criminal Lawyers
spoke to Mr Kid, the founder of Elephant Rescue Park,
about the impact the COVID pandemic has had on domestic elephants,
the circumstances of the park’s tusked animals before they came
under his care, and the new laws designed to protect these
much-loved creatures.

Mr Kid, your Elephant Rescue Park
saved its first elephant, Jeab, from riding tourism in December
2015. Today, your centre cares for eight rescued elephants. So how
does it operate?

In the beginning, in August 2015, we just provided help to
elephants when we first opened. But the first elephant that
belonged to us came in December.

The aim was just to provide help, free help, to any poor
elephant, from the circus, from riding, from hard work or an
accident.

So, why is a
rescue park like this necessary?

The problem for these elephants comes from hard work and
mistreatment, or for those who worked and had an accident.

Why we need to help them is that some of their owners are not
able to provide the money for treatment or many elephants become
disabled. So, they become unwanted elephants.

Some elephants need to work because if they don’t their
owner can’t afford to take care of them, and because of Thai
law, they’re not allowed to take domestic elephants up into the
mountains, where it’s considered a national park or community
forest.

That’s why we need to open this place to visitors, because
we spend the money that we earn from them to buy trees.

In the past,
tourists who came to Thailand used to ride elephants. Does this
still occur?

No. It changed because of culture. We changed this because, as
more and more tourists came the elephants were doing hard work for
too long. I say hard work because many of the big camps had big
numbers of tourists.

They used to walk for nearly 30 minutes. But when they came
back, they were supposed to take a rest but they didn’t. They
didn’t have that much time. When they dropped off one group,
then they needed to take another.

You have eight
elephants at the rescue park. Where do they come from?

Like I said, at first from August to December, we just helped
elephants that belonged to other people.

But in December, we accepted an elephant that had an accident, a
serious leg injury, and we tried to convince the owner to send him
to the hospital, but they didn’t agree.

So, I thought, what should I do? And my solution was to care for
them. So, that’s why we started to rescue elephants.

The first elephant came from an accident. The second came from
the circus, a boy, who was only one and a half. He was in a
training program. But we found out about it, and we went there and
took him. Now he has gotten bigger.

Another boy came from the circus. Another from riding tourism.
Another was from logging, another from riding, another from the
circus, and the last one is from the logging industry.

And sometimes
you cross the border into Myanmar to rescue elephants, I’m
told.

Yes. Why? Because some Thai elephants, in the old days, back in
the logging industry period, they were taken there.

Using elephants for logging was mostly by foreigners,
westerners, or Europeans, let’s say. Over 100 years ago, the
logging industry was created by the British.

And the logging
industry involved the use of elephants?

Yes. The British demanded a contract with our government. It was
legal in Thailand and Myanmar.

In the time of European colonisation, the French, British and
Portuguese tried to occupy all of Asia. So, at the time, our
government in Thailand had no choice.

Our government needed to sign to allow them to run this business
to keep our freedom from being under their control. So, Thailand
has had its own independence until now.

When they signed to run this business, they needed big numbers
of elephants to do the work. Some elephants were bought by them,
some were rented elephants.

But about 40 years ago, the government shutdown foresting and
that’s how elephant tourism came. They shut down the national
parks and the industry was cancelled with the British.

So, was the use
of elephants in logging banned?

They didn’t ban it. When the British couldn’t make money
here, they just went home, and they left everything, especially
elephants.

Some elephants were sold to local people, mostly to the Karen.
At that time, the Karen had one elephant that belonged to four, six
or ten people, while some belonged to one person. It depends on
their capacity.

After the logging, in the northern part of the country, these
elephants became unemployed, and some became unwanted.

Tourism then came to Thailand, and they adapted their job from
logging to riding.

Did the
domestication of elephants happen because of the British?

No. But the British put them in the logging industry.

The domestication of elephants was thousands of years ago. Asian
and Thai people have known how to use elephants for a long
time.

So, domestic elephants were in India 5,000 years ago. But in
Thailand, it was more than 1,000 years ago. About 400 years ago,
elephants were used to fight in wars. It was called the elephant
battle.

How big is the
problem with elephant mistreatment these days?

Right now, in Thailand, there’s not that much. Thailand is
the best country in the world now. It provides good care, treatment
and takes care of elephants like a member of the family.

But sometimes, the media, or on social media, people try to beat
our culture. And foreigners who come to our country, just want to
change things.

For example, they try to run a campaign not to ride on
elephants’ backs because they are afraid they can break the
back of the elephants, which is wrong information.

Some people raise a campaign not to breed baby elephants,
because when they are born, they will be trained in the circus. But
this is not right. Most of the young elephants are not treated like
that.

It’s the opposite. The number of domestic elephants is now
decreasing sharply.

This morning we just lost an elephant, a baby one. I know this,
because I am the vice president of the Thailand Elephant Alliance
Association, apart from being the founder of Elephant Rescue
Park.

That baby boy died today because of the disease EEHV or
endotheliotropic herpesvirus.

If they banned elephant breeding, then it would be bad. Soon,
maybe in 10 or 20 years, we would only have a very small number of
elephants.

Right now, we have about 3,700 or so domesticated elephants, and
3,500 wild elephants in the national parks.

So, the
elephants that you rescue won’t be going back to the wild?

If someone would be responsible for their care, if that elephant
was guaranteed to be safe, I would agree to do that.

But about 10 or 20 years ago, there were many projects that sent
these elephants back to the wild, and only 25 percent survived.

So, 75 percent died before the time that they should have. So,
that’s not the solution, because these are domesticated
elephants.

Some parks say it’s alright for domestic elephants. But many
of them died by accident. Many died by disease. When they got sick,
they needed veterinarians, especially without the skill to live in
nature.

Most died because they were attacked by wild elephants.

And are there
laws to protect against elephant mistreatment?

Of course. We had a law passed recently by the government. I
went to parliament, to government house, to raise this with the
government. And they accepted it.

It’s a good sign for Thai people and for elephant welfare.
It’s for the elephants to have the freedom that they’re
supposed to have, and to stop them from being hungry.

They have the right to be free to roam. They have the right to
be free from sickness. That means they’re supposed to get good
treatment from their owners.

They’re supposed to be free for any natural habits. That
means for breeding. They have the right to do that. But some people
say we shouldn’t breed domestic elephants.

And the last thing, they’re supposed to have freedom from
any type of mental sickness.

So, how long
have you been doing this?

I’ve been involved with elephants for a long time. I started
my life in tourism almost 20 years ago. And I went to different
elephant camps, and I also saw wild elephants. And I found that
some places were bad to elephants.

That’s why I decided to do this, with the aim of helping
poor elephants, especially the disabled.

So, now, in the park, I have two large females: one with a leg
injury, she got by a logging accident, and the other one has short
eyesight.

And lastly, Mr
Kid, how do you see your work developing into the future?

I dream to help more elephants, as many as I can. But this is
based on my status. During COVID, over the three years, there were
big financial problems.

I still have a strong belief that I should care for them. I
should never leave them behind, and now I aim to rescue more
elephants.

The issue for us is to promote this place. When more people come
to interact and learn about them, that’s how we earn more money
to rescue more elephants, because to rescue one elephant costs more
than 1.5 million baht.

The goal for Elephant Rescue Park is RCT. R is rescue, C is care
and T is treatment.

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