AN elephant camp in Thailand has set the animals ‘free’ and removed the heavy wooden seating often used by tourists following a drop in demand due to coronavirus.
The Maesa elephant camp in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, has been letting visitors ride the animals for 44 years, but has since decided to change this – for good.
The animals will also be allowed to roam freely around the grounds with guests able to watch the animals, but no longer sit on them.
Camp director Anchalee Kalampichit said this was the first time in 44 years that the elephants had not worn the seats at the start of the day.
She said the company will now change their business to allow the elephants to roam freely in the grounds and operate as a place for visitors to observe the animals – and all 78 of the jumbos will never have to wear them again.
She said: “Since we entered the business in 1976, riding on the elephants has always been the favourite activity of tourists.
“But because the coronavirus has spread there have been fewer tourists and eventually the government ordered us to close so we have removed the chairs to liberate the elephants.”
She added: “We are not planning to put the seat supports back on the elephants, even if we can operate again. We want to change the style of the place and find more natural ways that the public can enjoy the elephants.
“We will welcome tourists to enjoy learning about the elephants’ ways of life naturally instead of using them to entertain the tourists.”
Anchalee also said that the government enforced closure of the elephant camp, along with 28 other types of non-essential customer-facing businesses, means that the owners will have to take care of the animals without any revenue from customers.
She said: “The cost for taking care of the 78 elephants and 300 staff is five million THB (£130,399) per month. So for now, we have to bear that expense without income from tourists.
“But we will not leave anyone behind and will try to take the best care of the elephants for as long as we can. Now we are planting vegetables for the staff to eat as one of the ways we can reduce the expenses.”
The changes have been met well by people on social media, with one person commenting: “I’m so happy to hear you will free the elephants from their chains!.
“We hope your organisation will thrive and more people will visit your place where all the elephants will never work again and roam free!”
In Chiang Mai, where there are 93 elephant camps of varying size, officials said that 85 of them were facing closure unless the situation improved.
Boontha Chailert, president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association and the Maetaeng Elephant Park, said hundreds of other elephant centres around Thailand were also facing closure due to the lack of tourists.
There are a number of ethical elephant sanctuaries around Thailand which don’t permit riding or cages, such as the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
The Sun’s Dan Wooton visited the ethical Koh Samui Elephant Sanctuary, which looks after older female elephants who had been used in the entertainment trade.
A charity in Thailand has decided to livestream its elephant herd bathing in a river as a way to give people a respite and a sense of calm amid the news about the COVID-19 crisis.
John Roberts of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation launched the live cam on Facebook after realising how many people were cooped up at home.