thirty kilometers from bangkok in the suburb of bang bua thong is a half built housing complex abandoned by developers during the asian economic crisis of 1997 and now occupied by over 1500 squatters and several domesticated elephants.
to supplement income when the rice growing season ends, many farmers will relocate to the suburbs of bangkok with their elephants to live, venturing out to the capital to offer tourists the opportunity to feed the animals in exchange for a few dollars.
although it is illegal to bring elephants into the city, the combination of poverty in thailand’s rural areas, the loss of the elephant’s natural habitat, the resulting threat of starvation (elephants eat a couple hundred kilos of food a day, and it is difficult for impoverished farmers to make up for what nature can no longer provide), and the elephants’ special status in thai history means that most thais are sympathetic and turn a blind eye. that said, these underlying problems also go overlooked.
story (“the urban jungle” and “the elephant in the room”) and photos by brent lewin