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Over 1,000 elephants in Thailand could be facing starvation as the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted revenue generated from tourism in the country.
With much of Thailand in lockdown and its borders closed to all tourists, caretakers of the largest existing land mammals are struggling to afford food for the country's 4,000 captive elephants. Tourism in Thailand indirectly contributes to about 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to the Royal Thai Embassy.
“If there is no support forthcoming to keep them safe, these elephants, some of whom are pregnant, will either starve to death or may be put on the streets to beg,” Lek Chailert, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation told the BBC.
“It’s a very bleak outlook unless some financial help is received immediately.”
It's a challenge to keep them healthy and fed, especially during the middle of the country's dry season. Elephants in Thailand can eat up to 440 pounds of food a day and are largely maintained for the country's tourists.
Kerri McCrea, the manager of Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary in northern Thailand says villagers bought back about 70 elephants to her area due to the lack of tourism revenue.
"The worst-case scenario is that owners will have to choose between themselves and their elephants," McCrae told the news organization. "The people here don't have much, but they're doing what it takes to keep the elephants alive for now."
McCrae has to drive up to three hours a day to find grass and corn stalks to nourish the five elephants in her care. She added that other local elephant caretakers are in a similar position.
Others could be sold to zoos, or end up in the logging business -- which banned using the mammals over three decades ago -- where they could be put to work to harvest and haul timber.
"Feeding elephants is a priority but the issue is that there's not enough forest left to feed them," she added, according to the BBC.
Thailand currently has over 1,770 coronavirus cases, while 12 people have died in the country.