After waiting in vain for tourists near Pattaya for more than a year, five elephants and their owners are heading back to their northeastern home province of Surin – a 500km journey, on foot.
Members of five extended families were walking with their five elephants, with a pickup truck protecting the group in the front and the back, along the road beside the Map Prachan reservoir in tambon Nong Prue of Bang Lamung district on Tuesday.
Napalai Mai-ngam, 26, said five years ago she had brought her relatives and their tamed elephants from Surin to work at an elephant resort in tambon Lam Huay Yai of Bang Lamung.
They had made a good living, she said, receiving a monthly salary of 15,000 baht per elephant plus tips from tourists who enjoyed riding their elephants on nature trails.
Covid-19 stopped everything in January last year. Their employer suspended paying their salaries when the Chinese tourists who formed the majority of their customers disappeared, she said.
With no immediate return of tourists in sight amid the continuing pandemic, the natives of Surin finally gave up hope and decided to go back to farming in their home province.
Ms Napalai said her group set off early on Tuesday morning when the weather was not too hot. The pachyderms would have to walk the roughly 500 kilometres to Surin because the owners could not afford to hire big trucks to carry them. The owners also hoped their elephants could feed themselvers by grazing along the way.
Ms Napalai estimated that it would take about two weeks for her group to reach their home district of Tha Tum in Surin.
She said she was very grateful to villagers who donated fruit, drinking water and food to them as they passed by.
Ms Napalai said some people asked for their bank account numbers to make cash donations, but her group politely declined the offer for fear of being criticised for trying to cash in on their elephants via a social media story,
They would only receive food and fruit for their elephants, she said. The group could be reached by phone on 093-3357062.