Elephants’ migration to village brings new stress

A thousand elephants threatened by starvation have journeyed through the hills of northern Thailand, making a slow migration home from tourist sites forced shut by the pandemic.

Home for some of the animals is the northern village of Huay Pakoot, where generations of ethnic Karen mahouts — or elephant handlers — have been rearing the giant mammals for four centuries.

But it is around tourist hub Chiang Mai, 180km away, that many mahouts and their elephants work, performing money-spinning tricks for foreigners in amusement parks or “sanctuaries”.

Some of the controversial camps employ abusive methods to “break” and train the elephants, who earn their keep by entertaining busloads of tourists eager for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As the coronavirus pandemic paralysed global travel and closed many of the parks in mid-March, however, some 3,000 domesticated elephants have been unemployed. Many — at risk of starvation — have been brought home.

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