Just as Pattaya bargirls began shaking their tails on YouTube in hopes of enticing lonely foreign men to buy them virtual drinks, local mahouts have begun livestreaming pleas for baskets of food for their hungry elephants.
Suthep Petchkla, 36, said some of the few mahouts still living at a Najomtien elephant camp are using Facebook and YouTube to broadcast live video of the jumbos and asking viewers to pay 50 baht for baskets of food for the animals.
Suthep said it costs about 300 baht a day to feed the average elephant and mahouts have been without any income from tourists since early last year.
There are 16 people and six elephants still living at the camp, with the humans residing in wood shacks, doing whatever they can to keep their pachyderms alive. Some are working in construction, some sell food. Others have been more inventive, putting elephant shows online.
In a sense, they took a page out of Pattaya sex industry’s book. Early in the pandemic, when Soi 6 brothels and other gentlemen’s clubs closed, hostesses went upstairs to the now-unused bedrooms to dance in front of webcams. They urged male viewers to buy them “drinks,” few of which they actually drank, at 160 baht or more each.
As for Suthep, he’s caring for 41-year-old cow Jim. Some of her food money came from a restaurant owned by his brother, but even that has closed now he said.
Most mahouts left town, walking part of all of the way to the Northeast with their elephants. Suthep said he would remain in Pattaya until he has no other choice.