Underfed and chained up for endless hours, many elephants working in Thailand’s tourism sector could starve, be sold to zoos or be shifted into the illegal logging trade, campaigners warned, as the COVID-19 pandemic leads to a slump in the number of visitors.
Before the coronavirus, life for the kingdom’s estimated 2,000 elephants working in tourism was already stressful, with abusive methods often used to “break them” into giving rides and performing tricks at money-spinning animal shows.
With global travel paralyzed the animals are unable to pay their way, including the 300kg of food a day a captive elephant needs to survive.
Elephant camps and conservationists warned that hunger and the threat of renewed exploitation lie ahead, without an urgent bailout.
“My boss is doing what he can, but we have no money,” Kosin, a mahout — or elephant handler — said of the Chiang Mai camp where his elephant, Ekkasit, is living on a restricted diet.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s northern tourist hub, an area of rolling hills dotted by elephant camps and sanctuaries ranging from the exploitative to the humane.
Footage from another camp in the area showed lines of elephants tethered by a foot to wooden poles, some visibly distressed, rocking their heads back and forth.
About 2,000 elephants are “unemployed” as the coronavirus eviscerates the tourist industry, Thai Elephant Alliance Association president Theerapat Trungprakan said.
A lack of cash is limiting the fibrous food available to the elephants, “which will have a physical effect,” he said.
Wages for the mahouts who look after them have dropped by 70 percent.
Theerapat fears the elephants could soon be used in illegal logging activities along the Thailand-Myanmar border — in breach of a 30-year-old law banning the use of elephants to transport wood.
Others “could be forced [to beg] on the streets,” he said.
It is yet another twist in the saga of the exploitation of elephants, which animal rights campaigners have long been fighting to protect from the abusive tourism industry.
Chinese visitors, who make up the majority of Thailand’s 40 million tourists per year, plunged by more than 80 percent in February.
By last month, the travel restrictions had extended to Western nations.
With elephants increasingly malnourished due to the loss of income, the situation is “at a crisis point,” Elephant Nature Park owner Saengduean Chailert said.
Her sanctuary for about 80 rescued elephants only allows visitors to observe the creatures, a philosophy at odds with venues that have them performing tricks and offering rides.
She has organized a fund to feed elephants and help mahouts in almost 50 camps nationwide, fearing the only options would soon be limited to zoos, starvation or logging work.
For those restrained by short chains all day, the stress could lead to fights breaking out, said Saengduean, of camps that can no longer afford medical treatment for their elephants.
Calls are mounting for the Thai government to fund stricken camps to ensure the welfare of elephants.
“We need 1,000 baht [US$30] a day for each elephant,” Elephant Rescue Park manager Apichet Duangdee said.
Freeing his eight mammals rescued from circuses and loggers into the forests is out of the question, as they would likely be killed in territorial fights with wild elephants.
He is planning to take out a 2 million baht loan to keep his elephants fed.
“I will not abandon them,” he said.
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
‘GRAVE CONCERN’: A critic of the government died immediately following his complaints of torture at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail. At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka. At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said. More protests were planned
DMZ SWIM: Over more than three hours, South Korean surveillance cameras caught him eight times and audible alarms sounded twice, but border guards did not notice A North Korean defector wore a diving suit and fins during a daring six-hour swim around one of the world’s most fortified borders and was only caught after apparently falling asleep, a Seoul official said. South Korean forces did not spot the man’s audacious exploit, despite his appearance several times on surveillance cameras after he landed and triggered alarms, drawing heavy criticism from media and opposition lawmakers. Even after his presence was noticed, the man — who used diving gear to make his way by sea around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula — was not caught for another
China, under growing global pressure over its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, is mounting an unprecedented and aggressive campaign to push back, including explicit attacks on women who have made claims of abuse. As allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang mount, with a growing number of Western lawmakers accusing China of genocide, Beijing is focusing on discrediting the female Uighur witnesses behind reports of abuse. Chinese officials have named women, disclosed medical data and information on their fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. Officials said that the information was evidence of bad character,