Today, I had the opportunity to interview Soraida Salwala, Founder and Director of Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE). Our two-hour interview turned into 6.5 hours of talking, which included lunch and tea. I found her to be a pillar of strength and a compassionate advocate for Asian Elephants, while maintaining her sense of humor and view of the BIG picture.
Her goal is for Thailand to take such good care of its elephants that there is no longer any need for her Elephant Hospital; but that hope, she admits, seems unlikely given the fact that there are less than 3,000 elephants left in captivity in Thailand and more are wild-caught, sold, exported, abused, neglected or injured every year.
When I asked her what is the biggest threat to Asian Elephants, she unequivocally said, “Mankind.”
She also had some very pointed advice about how tourists to Thailand can help save and protect Thailand’s elephants:
1. Don’t feed elephants on the street.
2. Speak to the managers at the elephant camps or “sanctuaries” if you see any elephant abuse and send a letter to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
3. Don’t buy a painting by an elephant unless you can see that the elephant is truly enjoying it and the elephant keeper is not poking or prodding the elephant with a bull hook.
As for what Thailand can do, “Stop exporting Thai elephants,” she said, with the same matter-of-factness. “It’s all based on economics…on supply and demand. If zoos stop wanting elephants, than Thailand will stop exporting them.” She says the same goes for tourists: “If tourists stop feeding the elephants on the streets or do not go to camps that abuse the elephants” then the elephant keepers will get the message and change.
It’s going to take more than one advocate to save the Asian Elephants, however. I hope that the many voices can rise above the “elephant politics” and cooperate, or else in 20 years the only way people can see elephants in Thailand will be the statues and paintings that speckle the country…
Producer, Writer and Director The Eyes of Thailand