Each year, elephants dress up in Santa Claus costumes to spread Christmas cheer to children at a school in Ayutthaya. This year is a little different. Not only were all the students wearing a face mask, so were the elephants.
Using their trunks, the four elephants also carried baskets of face masks to hand out to the students at the Jirasat Wittaya School, which is about an hour outside of Bangkok. The Ayutthaya Elephant Palace has been holding the holiday event at the school for 17 years and the manager Ittipan Paolami says this year they thought it would be important to raise awareness about health safety.
“This year, due to the pandemic as well as the recent outbreak, we used this opportunity to raise public awareness about the spread of Covid-19.”
The event is well liked by the community. An English and science teacher at the school says it is a fantastic event for the children that mixes cultures together.
The annual event has also sparked criticism from wildlife activists. The Elephant Palace, which offers elephant rides, has also been criticised by visitors for poor conditions.
Wildlife veterinarian and adviser for World Animal Protection, Jan Schmidt-Burbach, says events like the one at the school are not acceptable and can be stressful for the animals.
“Children will perceive elephants as entertainers and clowns rather than the wild animals they biologically are.”
But Ittipan says he doesn’t see how dressing up the elephants as Santa and putting on a show for children is exploitation or torture.
“We have had elephants in our province for tourism and social awareness for a really long time. So it’s really not a big deal doing activities with them like this morning. Elephants have always been integral to the Thai way of life.”