Illustration of an elephant. - HOerwin56
The coronavirus has driven tourists away from Thailand and the consequences are dramatic for the elephants. Thus, 2,000 pachyderms find themselves unemployed, some of them malnourished and chained in deserted camps. Without emergency aid, the situation could become catastrophic, according to industry professionals.
The finding is alarming in many structures where elephants "sometimes fight with each other and injure themselves," explains Saengduean Chailert of the Elephant Nature Park, a refuge for 84 pachyderms at the forefront of animal welfare.
Parks closed since mid-March
Before the pandemic, the living conditions of these animals were often often stressful: many parks in Thailand that sell ethics and respect actually hide a juicy business where training remains brutal. But the situation has been even more alarming since the end of January.
The coronavirus has forced Chinese visitors (more than 25% of tourists from the kingdom) to stay at home. Then the camps were deserted as the disease spread around the world. In mid-March, authorities ordered the temporary closure of all elephant parks in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19, which has so far infected more than 1,500 people in Thailand.
"Many will probably not be able to reopen"
Mae Taeng, one of the largest in the country, can hold on to his reserves. It welcomed up to 5,000 visitors a day before the crisis and received significant financial spinoffs, thanks to elephant rides and controversial shows featuring pachyderms dancing or painting. But dozens of small structures can no longer afford the costs.
Most rent their elephants, between $ 700 and $ 1,200 a month. To this is added about fifty dollars to feed the pachyderm every day and pay for its mahout (guardian, master of the elephant). "Many will probably not be able to reopen after the crisis," said Saengduean Chailert. Many of these places have already returned the animals to their owners.
Danger for the mahouts too
Despite the ban on their exploitation in the forest industry since 1989, some elephants risk being "employed again in the transport of wood, responsible for numerous injuries", fears Theerapat Trungprakan, president of the Thai Elephant Alliance Association. Others are already starting to "go back to beg" in the streets with their mahouts. For the latter, the situation is indeed just as worrying and a large number have been dismissed.
Thailand has 3,800 domesticated pachyderms. Releasing them is impossible because they would conflict with the approximately 3,000 specimens still in the wild in the country or could be victims of accidents or diseases.
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