Thailand's mahouts fear losing their elephants

Thailand's mahouts fear losing their elephants

It would be hard for a 45-year-old mahout from Surin to give up his precious cow elephant - but that might be necessary if a new wildlife-protection law is enacted.

"I would lose my mind. It would be terrible for me," Watcharapong Mohom, who has been living with 21-year-old elephant La Aung Dow for more than 10 years in Tha Lat village of Chumphon Buri's Tambon Sri Narong, said last week.

La Aung Dow is like a sister to Watcharapong. He has taken care of her since she was born. He inherited her from his father.

Every day, he has to feed her bales of bananas, sugarcane and grass. He also has to wash and scrub her.

"We speak different languages but we can communicate and understand each other," he said.

"When I tell her to sleep, she sleeps. When I tell her to run, she runs."

Unlike other jumbos, La Aung Dow can swim and has won several competitions during the past two years. She also helps him to make money.

He takes her on walks around nearby villages. When someone asks permission to crawl under her belly, Watcharapong gets Bt99. In Thai culture, some people believe that passing under an elephant brings good luck. Sometimes people would ask him to take his elephant to an auspicious ceremony such as a wedding or the ordination of a monk, as they believe a pachyderm would make their lives better.

He earns about Bt5,000-Bt10,000 from each charter depending on the distance.

He used to take his elephant across the border to Laos to attend auspicious activities.

The mahout's income from his elephant averages about Bt10,000 per month.

"That is enough to take care of my family," the father of two said.

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