Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Elephant Street Begging in Bangkok - the Issues

Elephant Street Begging is an unfortunate practice that still takes place all over Southeast Asia. In Thailand this is illegal, but still happens as a result of corruption and the money that can be made. Several Thai government departments, community groups, and NGOs are working to put a stop to this. GVI volunteers are making a difference by supporting a government program to relocate the street begging elephants and their mahouts to a rural area in Surin Province.

Many elephant keeping communities are located in remote areas of the North and Northeast, where tourists rarely visit and the natural resources needed to sustain the elephants (ie native forests) are depleted. Many mahouts (or elephant keepers) bring their elephants into the cities to beg out of desperation, being unable to find suitable work at home in the countryside. Still, some other mahouts are exploiting the situation, and are simply out to make easy cash from urban Thais and tourists alike.

Street begging is a sad existence for an elephant. Choking on smog, navigating busy streets in heavy traffic, the elephants actually go deaf from chronic exposure to city noise and blind from the city lights at night. Due to the nature of the work most street begging takes place at night, increasing traffic risks and subjecting the elephants to an unnatural routine of returning to hidden camps beneath overpasses and inside abandoned housing complexes during daylight hours.

Healthy elephants require tons of water and vegetables each day. Properly caring for these endangered species is very difficult in the urban environment, so it’s not surprising that the street begging elephants live shortened and unhappy lives.

The photos in this post are all courtesy of Brent Lewin, a Canadian photographer who joined the Surin Volunteers in Dec 2009. Brent’s spent countless hours documenting the plight of street begging elephants in Bangkok, and taking time to understand the mahouts involved.

To find more of Brent’s work visit www.brentlewin.com