Yesterday we welcomed a rather unexpected elephant in need of an urgent place to stay. Thong Phoon’ an underweight, 23-year-old female Asian elephant who is suspected to be pregnant.

She came from an elephant camp in Pattaya where she had spent the last two months after being purchased from a camp in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, where at least one of her calves still lives, a 3-year old female who is the same size as WFFT’s youngest calf, Pin who lives with her mother and aunties. Thong Phoon has spent most of her life in chains, and more recently was kept with her two front legs hobbled in chains, in direct sunlight, with no access to regular drinking water. While at the camp in Pattaya she had attacked a mahout and some tourists, and also attacked an elephant calf. This led to the owners being unable to use her for tourist rides so they shackled her and searched for a suitable ‘buyer’.

She has given birth to two calves which were taken away from her, at the age of 23 years, its no wonder she is an unpredictable elephant. Does her aggressive behavior stem from having her children ripped away from her? Or is she behaving like this because she realizes she is pregnant? Does she fear that her new calf will also be ripped away from her? People often forget that even though captive elephants here in Thailand are legally classified as domestic animals, they are still wild at heart, and can be seriously dangerous animals, as seen just last week when a Chinese tour guide was killed by a bull elephant at a riding camp.

The owners of Thong Phoon were so persistent in getting her out of the camp, we were very wary of what this may have meant. They can not work her, therefore they cannot make money from her, and are finding it very difficult to find a buyer due to her unpredictable nature. Without an income from her they cannot afford to pay for food or better care. We have come to an agreement that she can stay with us for 3 months, and we will see if we can raise the funds to secure her freedom forever.

Can you help us help her…? See the campaign here

The current funds needed to rescue her and build a special protected contact enclosure for such a dangerous elephant stands at 1.4 million Thai baht (43,000 USD). Some people may argue why would we spend so much money rescuing an elephant…? Thong Phoon is an odd case for us here at WFFT. We do not usually focus on the rescuing of such young elephants, most of our herd are over 50 years old, at ‘retiring’ age. This is mostly because of the cost of younger elephants, and the possibility of the mahouts going straight back and buying another. So we aim for older individuals, and assess each elephant owner for the individual situation. We are trying to persuade the owners to allow to her to go to us for a cheaper price.

What are we to do in such a position? Do we send her back to a life of abuse? She would end up being chained 24 hours a day, she would be receiving regular beating to try and break her spirit to make her a working elephant again, attempting to remove ‘real’ elephant behaviours from her.

For now, Thong Phoon is being housed in a safe fenced side enclosure on the Project 4 Area of WFFT, with a chain on one of her front legs, for her own safety as well as those around her. Please note that she has know nothing but chains for such a long time, the transition from chain to no chain may take a little while. We have just commenced the construction of a much larger secure protected contact enclosure which would provide her with lots more room as she settles in to life without chains and abuse. Her current owners will stay at WFFT for a short period to assist with and ease her in settling in to her new surroundings.

Can you help us help her…? See the campaign here

There are currently around 3500 captive elephants in Thailand, we cannot save them all, what should we do in instances such as this? Do we provide temporary refuge for elephants like Thong Phoon, to allow them to grieve after having such a tragic start to life or do we buy every elephant in need of help (this is an impossible task). Many would argue that the ‘renting’ of elephants is the wrong thing to do, this is usually the stance we take, but having visited and assessed many elephants over the passed few months we may readdress our stance on this. The elephants we have visited included two elderly blind elephants who were still being worked, who’s owner wanted massive amounts of money for them, we would love to be able to convince the owners of elephants in such states that we can provide free respite for such animals, but instead truly caring for the welfare of these animals these owners work them until they can work no more.

Above you see an honest account of the complexities and controversies of rescuing elephants here in Thailand. One thing is for sure if we do manage to raise the funds to secure Thong Phoon’s freedom forever, she will never have to give rides to tourists again and never have to give up one of her calves again.

In the future WFFT’s facilities including our Elephant Hospital and the variety of different holding areas, we hope that we will help many more elephants in the future.

Can you help us help her…? See the campaign here