Following years of hardship and misery, dozens of elephants at the Maesa elephant camp in Thailand have been freed from the burden of carrying heavy wooden and metal chairs on their backs.

With coronavirus having wiped out the tourist trade, the 78 elephants at the camp in Chiang Mai have finally been set free after having been forced to give daily rides to tourists in the burning heat for years.

Elephant rides are completely unnecessary and cause immense suffering to the animals, who are often prodded with bullhooks and develop lasting physical complications due to the relentless work they are made to do, sometimes working 18 or more hours a day.

elephant ride

The elephants at Maesa elephant camp before they were set free from their burden of carrying tourists in the blazing heat (Image Credit: Maesa elephant camp)

This “tourist activity” has been going on for 44 years at the camp, but now, the Thai Government has ordered it to stop due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Thankfully the change will not be temporary, and the elephants are now allowed to walk freely around the camp. The focus of the business has supposedly changed too, according to camp director Anchalee Kalampichit, who says it will become a place for visitors to simply observe and learn about the majestic mammals.

“We are not planning to put the seat supports back on the elephants,” Kalampichit said, “even if we can operate again. We want to change the style of the place and find more natural ways that the public can enjoy the elephants. We will welcome tourists to enjoy learning about the elephants’ ways of life naturally instead of using them to entertain the tourists.”

Unfortunately, although these elephants have finally been freed, their future is uncertain.

“The cost for taking care of the 78 elephants and 300 staff is five million THB ($160,000) per month,” says Kalampichit. “So for now, we have to bear that expense without income from tourists.”

With hundreds of other elephant camps shut down or facing imminent closure, animals in some areas are being chained up and left without enough food due to lack of funds, according to a report in The Daily Mail. There are concerns that the elephants from these now-defunct camps will starve, be forced into the illegal logging trade, or eventually be sold to zoos.

This goes to show that without the support of tourists, the elephant entertainment industry across the globe will fail, as these facilities cannot exist without our revenue. People have more power than ever to encourage the entire world to end elephant exploitation for good and get these innocent creatures transferred to sanctuaries that can provide the care they deserve.