Surin: The unrelenting Covid-19 crisis has not only put the province's people out of work, but also its iconic animals.
More than 300 elephants and their mahouts in this northeastern province have been on the receiving end of the strict public health measures designed to minimise the impact of the virus. But they have also made the mahouts poorer and the elephants they raised hungry.
The rising Covid-19 infections in the latest wave are the sole culprit for the loss of income for the around 300 elephants and their mahouts in a village and nearby areas in Tha Tum district.
With no tourists to watch the elephant shows and buy souvenirs, the local economy is strapped for cash.
One mahout, who asked not to be named, said the lack of visitors has sent ripple effects on related economic activities.
Growers of bananas for feeding the elephants are suffering, as are the mahouts who sell the fruit to tourists and earn some income from fruit sales.
Currently, the mahouts have resorted to pulling wild grass for feeding the pachyderm at the elephant centre. However, the elephants consume a huge quantity of the grass each day and the supply of local grass may not catch up with the demand.
The elephant village was a permanent fixture on Surin's tourism map, offering a variety of attractions including live elephant performances.
The village was also a learning project where the government and the provincial office jointly sponsored a programme to build a large elephant conservation centre with exhibitions covering some 500 rai of land.
The Surin elephants hired to work in entertainment locations elsewhere in the country also found themselves out of jobs.
They had no choice but to return to Surin. In fact, 160 elephants headed back to the province along with their mahouts who hoped at least there would still be food at home for them and their animals.
Dissapong Nubwandee, assistant chief of Krapho tambon administrative organisation (TAO), said many mahouts are in dire financial straits.
The TAO has requested 380,000 baht from the Surin labour office to hire the mahouts to do day jobs such as cutting lawn or building water sources.
If the mahouts can survive, so will their elephants.