Dozens of elephants have been set free in Thailand on the 25th of March, as their keepers removed the chairs that are mounted to their backs to carry tourists
The elephants, also known as ‘jumbos’, at the Maesa elephant camp in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, have been giving rides to foreign tourists for over 44 years, but the Covid-19 coronavirus has decimated tourism in the country, leaving the elephants out of work.
This instance had been the first time in 44 years that the elephants had not being mounted with the seats at the start of the day, according to Camp director Anchalee Kalampichit.
She said the company will now permanently change how their business works, to allow the elephants to roam freely on the grounds and operate as a place for visitors to observe the animals. She said that all 78 of the elephants will never have to wear the seats 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.”
“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.”
Thailand was the first country to confirm a case of COVID-19 outside of China and are now reporting 1,045 confirmed cases and 4 deaths in the country.
Anchalee went on to say that the government had enforced the closure of the elephant camp, along with 28 other types of non-essential businesses that would result in direct contact with customers.
She said: “The cost for taking care of the 78 elephants and 300 staff is five million THB (130,399GBP) 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.”
There are 93 elephant camps of varying size in Chiang Mai according to officials, who say that 85 of them were facing closures if the outbreak in the region doesn’t improve.