Just as Thai bargirls began shaking their asses on YouTube for virtual drinks, Pattaya mahouts have begun livestreaming 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.
On the titillation scale, the peeping pachyderm videos fall far short of the R-rated videos posted by Soi 6 brothels and Darkside “gentlemen’s clubs” that turned to livestreaming early in the pandemic and continued even after bars reopened for a few months, often with hostesses ignoring the few paying customers that wandered in.
Many of the mahout livestreams are stationary cameras pointed at majestic elephants, a majestic sight even without much action. A handwritten sign is placed in the foreground with a telephone number and bank info asking for donations while others show the elephant tenders sweeping up poop.
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, the mahouts took a page out of Pattaya sex industry’s book. But instead of bargirls the now-unused bedrooms to beg for 170-baht lady drinks – few of which actually get drunk – mahouts are asking for food not for themselves, but the jumbos.
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 will remain in Pattaya until he has no other choice.
The original version of this story first appeared in the Pattaya Mail, a Bangkok Herald partner.