For 'de-programmed' elephants, return to wild is a slow, costly process

Two elephant conservation groups are working together to reintroduce domesticated elephants to the wild, releasing 84 of them over the past 10 years under an initiative of Her Majesty the Queen.

The Elephant Reintroduction Foundation (ERF) must shoulder not only the increasingly high cost of purchasing elephants, but also of preparing them for their return to the wild.

In the meantime, it focuses on taking good care of the domesticated elephants in its custody, which is only a fraction of the number in the Kingdom that could potentially be released back into their natural habitat.

ERF secretary-general Siwaporn Thantharanont said that without the conservation efforts of the foundation and the National Elephant Institute (NEI), an estimated 2,500 to 2,800 domesticated elephants could die unnecessarily over the next 30 years.

Due to higher demand for elephants in the tourism business, where the pachyderms are put on show for tourists, plus begging on the streets of Bangkok, an elephant now costs up to Bt1.5 million (S$59,712), compared to Bt300,000 in recent years.

Reorienting a domesticated elephant for life in the wild once cost the ERF Bt300,000 to purchase the animal plus Bt200,000 in nurturing expenses, food and mahouts' fees. This later rose to Bt1 million: Bt700,000 to buy the elephant plus Bt300,000 in costs.

A well-respected monk recently agreed to release two elephants to the wild, but the ERF could not obtain either elephant, because each would have cost between Bt1 million and Bt1.5 million, Siwaporn said.

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