Thailand’s sudden drop in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic has caused devastation in the country’s service sector — including its elephant tourism sector. Without travelers paying to visit elephants in the Southeast Asian country, the sanctuaries and camps where they lived close to tourism-dependent cities like Chiang Mai simply can’t afford to feed or house them anymore. As a result, more than 100 of the animals have been sent on a 93-mile jaunt home to the Mae Chaem District in rural northern Thailand, their natural homeland.
Elephants can eat more than 660 pounds of food per day. London-based World Animal Protection estimates that nearly 2,000 elephants are at risk of starvation because ownership at the sanctuaries where they live can’t afford to feed them.
The relocation of the animals is good news for the elephants, according to the Chiang Mai-based Save Elephant Foundation. The organization has been promoting the elephants’ return to their home at this time and has been raising money for struggling elephant owners.
Sadudee Sarichevee, who had worked with the organization to set up a small elephant farm for tourists to visit, decided to take his elephants back home. He and other local sanctuary owners marched a total of 11 elephants back to Mae Chaem from Chiang Mai.
“These elephants have not had a chance to return home for 20 years. They seem to be very happy when arriving home, they make their happy noises, they run to the creek near the village and have fun along with our children,” said Sarichevee, who owns four elephants himself, to The Associated Press.