Coronavirus: Elephant camps deserted in Thailand raise fears animals could starve

Elephant camps in Thailand were deserted today (March 16) raising fears the animals could starve to death. Footage from the normally busy Chokchai elephant camp in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, shows the creatures locked in their enclosures with only a handful of mahouts to care for the them. Owner Chokchai Srisivilai said the drop in tourists caused by the coronavirus had seen visitor numbers at the park plunge. The number of daily passenger arrivals this month at the country's main airport in Bangkok is estimated to be just a quarter of what it was in 2019 - potentially decimating the country's tourist industry. Chokchai said: "My camp is usually visited by hundreds of tourists a day but since the coronavirus situation has worsened, we have had to close down because of how difficult it has been. "I have had to suspend 30 members of staff to reduce the costs. Now we just have a few mahouts to take care of 60 elephants in the camp. "The camp has to spend around 50,000 THB (1,244 GBP) a day for the elephants' food and recently we received no income to cover the costs, but I have promised to try to take the best care of them that I can. ''If we don't have income we can't feed ourselves or the elephants.'' Chokchai added that the elephant camp owners desperately need help from the government. He said: "Even after many camps have closed, we still have to bear with the elephants' rearing cost and that is not cheap, the government should lend us a hand to aid the situation for the well-being of the elephants." Earlier this month, tourism chief Boontha Chailert hundreds of elephant sanctuaries and parks around Thailand had already closed, with many more set to follow. Boontha, who is president of the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association and the Maetaeng Elephant Park, said: ''It's a similar situation across the country. We cannot survive without tourism and theelephants can't be cared for without that income. "If nothing improves over the next couple of months we will have to shut down the centre as well. That is the worst case scenario because of the coronavirus.''