It’s not every day that you come across a man and his BFF – buffalo friend forever.
Thai farmer Surat Paewkate was never expecting to form a bond with buffalo Thong Kham when he first became his caretaker.
The 34-year-old was paid to take care of the buffalo – but he says it slowly developed into a friendship.
“Thong Kham is so sweet and canny,” he told BBC Thai. “He loves to walk in my paddy field with me on his back.”
So it was only natural that he started to post selfies with his beloved buffalo.
His photos quickly went viral, turning him and Thong Kham into instant internet celebrities in Thailand.
But the story took another turn when Mr. Paewkate revealed that Thong Kham would soon be sold to another owner.
‘I will keep him happy’
It all started two months ago when Mr. Paewkate, who lives in the Thai province of Chainat, took up the job of becoming Thong Kham’s caretaker.
He quickly struck up a friendship with the animal and last week decided to take a couple of selfies with Thong Kham.
After a few shots, he noticed that Thong Kham had learned to copy his actions.
“Thong Kham started to copy my posture – [he would] look straight into the phone, move closer to me [and] even [start to look like] he was smiling,” Mr. Paewkate said.
He uploaded the photos on Facebook for his friends’ amusement and believes that they shared the pictures on their own profiles.
His post was soon shared 32,000 times and requests poured in asking for more photos.
“[People] couldn’t get enough of me and Thong Kham, they asked for more pictures,” he said. “Some said just looking at the photos [made them] feel much better and [forget about] their hardships from their daily lives.”
But this friendship was almost torn apart when Thong Kham’s owner – who had been paying Mr. Paewkate to take care of him – decided to sell the buffalo to someone else.
“I was quite upset [but] I did not have enough money to buy him,” said Mr. Paewkate, who explained his predicament to his newfound fans.
He explained that he would need to raise 100,000 Thai Baht ($3,032, £2368) to buy Thong Kham – and people answered.
“Some of them told me… they were willing to donate [money],” he said. “So I decided to ask for donations.”
Within two days, he raised a total of THB135,969 and closed the crowdfunding campaign.
In a Facebook post, he asked users to “make suggestions” as to what he should do with the remaining funds.
According to Mr. Paewkate, he will officially become Thong Kham’s owner in a ceremony on Thursday.
He added that local government officers would be there to maintain transparency, saying he wanted to be accountable to donors.
“I have to thank everyone for this. I will keep Thong Kham happy all his life and post photos regularly. I welcome everyone who wants to visit Thong Kham,” he said.
“I [used to] dream about having a paddy field, a house, and a buffalo I can ride when I go to work in the fields. With Thong Kham, my last dream has come true.”
Reporting by the BBC Thai’s Busaba Sivasomboon.