COVID-19 has been devastating for Thailand’s elephant population. Some have already suffered the pain of elephant riding camps, but in the last 18 months, many have been abandoned by keepers. But not all is lost. Mark Stratton finds out how ethical elephant sanctuaries are trying to help.
Looking into Butterfly’s dark eyes, I’m met with a doleful gaze. She’s either figuring out what I have brought her to eat or, maybe, it’s wariness over what my species has done to her kind.
On Phuket Island, in southern Thailand, I’m alongside this gentle 50-year-old female Asian elephant with Louise Rogerson, a former fashion designer from England who gave up haute couture to follow a passion for elephants. With her partner, Russell, and Thai businessman, Wallop Luengdhama, they opened Tree Tops Elephant Reserve in 2019—just before COVID-19 unleashed a welfare crisis upon Thailand’s beleaguered pachyderms.