Most elephants living in captivity across the country suffer from work overload, malnutrition, and poor living conditions, says the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.
Sittidet Mahasawongkul, head of the Lampang-based centre's elephant hospital yesterday said he and his team recently conducted elephant health check-ups at several elephant camps and found most of the animals were ailing due to poor care.
There are about 2,000 captive elephants in shelters across the country.
"Many elephants were weak and sick as they are forced to entertain tourists and perform in shows for many hours a day," Mr Sittidet said. "They don't have enough food to eat and they don't have time to relax."
The team found unhygienic living conditions in many of the shelters, the veterinarian said.
Many of the elephants were being fed only grass and were showing signs of malnutrition.
"They cannot get enough nutrition from eating only grass," he said, adding that elephants can die from digestive problems if they eat grass for extended periods.
To encourage elephant shelter operators to take better care of the animals, the Livestock Development Department and the Tourism Authority of Thailand have created an award for elephant shelters that meet or surpass the department's animal welfare standards.
Seventy-three shelters in 11 provinces took part in the project, but only a few of them met the standards, Mr Sittidet said.
Sawan Sangbunlung, secretary-general of the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said he hoped that a proposed law change would help curb the problem of poor treatment.
A bill now before the House is designed to protect animals, including elephants, from maltreatment, he said.
The measure has passed its first reading. Under the bill, people found guilty of harming animals will be fined 20,000 baht, and/or given one year in prison.
"I hope that when this law comes into effect, the elephants will receive better treatment. They will have more time to relax and will have better food to eat," Mr Sawan said. The shelter operators will be legally bound to take good care of elephants, he added.
About the author
- Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin