Jemma Bullock: Elephants in the Time of Coronavirus
When the pandemic first hit and tourism all over the world shut down, thousands of captive elephants across Asia went from being very much in demand to being out of work, meaning they are struggling and many of them are in dire situations. Whether these elephants are from places where their lives are really good, like certain sanctuaries, or from places where their lives are incredibly difficult, where they are forced to give rides, perform tricks and spend they rest of the day on horribly small chains, they have all been affected by the pandemic. Jemma Bullock runs a project called ELIE at Elephant Valley Project (EVP) in Eastern Cambodia. EVP is one of the very good places to be an elephant. These elephants live in the forest, eat whatever they want, aren’t ridden or bathed or used as selfie props, they don't have to do anything except be elephants. In normal times, tourist visit EVP but they don’t interfere with the lives of the residents. They go out into the forest and hike with the elephants and watch them in their natural habitat. It's a pretty incredible place. But, like everyone else, EVP shut down to visitors in March and until then, ecotourism was 90 percent of their income. To survive the crisis, they had to shut down their second sanctuary in Thailand, and have been relying on grants and donations. The fact that they can receive grants and donations makes them much more fortunate than most. I spoke with Jemma about life at EVP and what it's been like since the pandemic started. So far, 2020 at EVP has been a lot like many people’s year– unpredictable, difficult, and absolutely insane. Not only have they been navigating the loss of income, tourism, and an entire sanctuary, but they’ve also had some days (and weeks) that they barely survived – including a three-week stint with a wild elephant on the loose, stealing one of their females and sending the humans up into the trees.