Thai elephant hospital, short of money, at risk of closing

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2009 file photo, elephant keepers assist Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant who lost part of her left front leg after stepping on a land mine 10 years ago, after attaching her with an artificial leg at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand. What is believed to be the world's first elephant hospital says it may have to close because of budgetary problems after a decade of declining contributions. The Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation, which operates the hospital, said Friday, March 17, 2017, it is facing bankruptcy unless it receives financial assistance from the Thai government. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2009 file photo, elephant keepers help a staff member from Prostheses Foundation, bottom right, to fit an artificial leg for Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant who lost part of her left front leg after stepping on a land mine 10 years ago, at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand. What is believed to be the world's first elephant hospital says it may have to close because of budgetary problems after a decade of declining contributions. Soraida Salwala, head of the Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation, which operates the hospital, said Friday, March 17, 2017, that the group has barely enough money to continue operating until the end of the year. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong, File)

BANGKOK — What is believed to be the world's first elephant hospital says it may have to close because of budgetary problems after a decade of declining contributions.

The Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation, which operates the hospital in Lampang in Thailand's hilly north, says it is facing bankruptcy unless it receives financial assistance from the Thai government. The hospital has cared for more than 4,600 elephants in 25 years of operation and currently has five animals.

The hospital drew worldwide attention in 2008 when it developed the world's first prosthetic elephant leg. At least 15 of its patients have been land mine victims.

Foundation head Soraida Salwala said Friday that the group has barely enough money to continue operating until the end of the year, with a monthly average of $12,000 in donations falling far short of $28,000 in expenses.

She took some hope in a surge of contributions seen since she publicized the problem on Monday on the foundation's Facebook page.

She remains grim, however, about the hospital's long-term prospects.

"If we cannot find more people and resources, then yes, we would have to shut down," Soraida said. "What I want to see most is for the government to have an Elephant Fund, which I have sought for over 20 years."

Elephants are the de facto national animal of Thailand, and for a brief period graced the country's flag.

"I'm still working. I still love elephants. I'm asking for the government to please help us," Soraida said.

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