Human Interest

COVID-19 causes food shortages for Thailand’s elephants

By Gaspar Ruiz Canela

Bangkok, Mar 31 (efe-epa).- Domesticated elephants do not lead easy lives in many tourist fields in Thailand, where they are trained hard to offer circus shows, but the novel coronavirus is further preventing them from feeding properly.

Tourism revenues have fallen amid the pandemic and many Thais have turned to a donation campaign that has so far raised more than 600,000 baht (about $18,000).

It is estimated that there are more than 3,000 domesticated elephants in Thailand and most of them are found in centers and parks that live mainly from tourism, one of the engines of the Thai economy.

The campaign to help the pachyderms was started by the Thai Elephant Alliance association, which brings together different elephant resorts, with the aim of buying food and medicine for these imposing mammals.

“Although many elephant centers have recently had to close on the orders of the governors, elephants still have to eat daily,” Siwawut Munesane, vice president of the Thai Elephant Alliance in the northern province of Chiang Mai, told EFE.

Siwawut said there are about 2,200 elephants employed in the tourism sector in Thailand, of which about 1,100 are in Chiang Mai.

“All elephant centers and sanctuaries need income now, because they have to pay for food, supplements, medicine,” said the association’s president.

Elephants, which can weigh more than three tons and exceed two and a half meters in height, consume between 200 and 300 kilograms of food a day.

Authorities in Thailand, where there are already more than 1,700 cases and 12 deaths from COVID-19, have banned most public activities and non-essential businesses, leading to the closure of parks and resorts.

Since the end of January, the country has also suffered a drastic decline in tourism, especially from China, the origin of COVID-19 and the country from which almost a third of the 39 million visitors to Thailand hail.

Wasana Thongsuk, director of the Maetang Elephant Park and Clinic in Chiang Mai, said the center houses 64 elephants and that, although they are no longer able to receive tourists, it has funds to last until September.

“Before the outbreak of COVID-19, we received around 600 visitors (daily). However, since the outbreak of COVID-19 was declared in Wuhan (China), the number of tourists decreased considerably,” Wasana – who before closing this month received between 10 and 50 daily visitors – told EFE.

The director added said the 1,000 baht ($30) previously spent on food and supplements for each animal had to be cut in half.

In the past, domesticated elephants were used to cut down trees, but since the prohibition of this activity in 1989, most are now used as a tourist attraction.

Organizations such as World Animal Protection have reported that many of these animals live in poor condition and are mistreated to carry tourists on their backs or participate in shows.

In addition to the domesticated, there are an estimated 3,000 other wild elephants in Thailand. EFE.EPA


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