Elephant venues in Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos leading Asia’s tourism industry towards a high-welfare future are facing collapse due to the coronavirus crisis.
World Animal Protection has launched an urgent appeal to help elephant-friendly venues with running costs, amid fears enormous gains in animal-welfare could be lost due to the collapse of tourism across Asia.
According to the charity, elephants consume 10 per cent of their body weight in food every day – up to 400 kilograms of grass, leaves, fruits and vegetables – which needs to be paid for and transported.
But with tourism across Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos grinding to a halt due to international travel restrictions, the likes of Chang Chill, Following Giants and Boon Lott Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) have been left without a reliable source of funds to take care of the animals under their care.
“As the world is in lockdown and the tourism industry dries up, wild animals – that should never have been in captivity in the first place – could suffer most, left abandoned, neglected and starving,” World Animal Protection global head of wildlife Audrey Mealia said.
“It would be heart-breaking to accept that this global crisis could sacrifice the new-found freedom these elephants are experiencing at these high-welfare venues.”
According to the charity, 11 high-welfare venues caring for a combined total of over 150 elephants are at risk.
“These are challenging times, but our work to protect wild animals never stops. Wild animals should not be the forgotten victims of this pandemic,” Mealia said.
“While this is an extremely uncertain time for captive elephants in Asia, it also provides an opportunity for the tourism industry to rebuild responsibly post-pandemic.”
World Animal Protection has previously supported the transition of venues to become high welfare and elephant friendly, including ChangChill and Following Giants in Thailand, representing the potential for future responsible tourism.
Donations of as little as $41 can contribute to emergency food, supplements and medicine. If you would like to help, click here.
The challenges being faced by elephant-friendly venues across Asia are also shared by conservation groups dependent on tourism dollars.
In Cambodia, the temporary closure of ecolodge Cardamom Tented Camp could suspend forest patrols by Wildlife Alliance rangers in Botum Sakor National Park in the country’s southwest.
As of mid-May, all 14 rangers policing 18,000 hectares of evergreen lowland forest in the national park are still operating, relying on funds from the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF).
However, the foundation said these funds could run out as early as the end of May.
“We are extremely proud of the rangers’ efforts over the last six years. They have all-but stamped out bushmeat poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and land grabbing on the concession,” John Roberts, director of elephants and conservation at GTAEF, said.
“However, we see from the rampant forest clearance in surrounding areas that the rangers’ excellent work would almost immediately be reversed should patrolling stop in the next few weeks.”
The rangers’ equipment, food and wages are provided entirely by the GTAEF and Cardamom Tented Camp, which both depend on tourism for their income.
However, the last guest at Cardamom Tented Camp checked out on 30 March, leaving the ecolodge without a source of reliable funds for nearly two months.
“Prior to the [COVID-19] shutdown, illegal hunting in Botum Sakor National Park had declined by around 90 per cent over the last five or so years,” Cardamon Tented Camp manager Allan Michaud said.
“That is now at risk. The sooner we secure income for the ranger patrols the better the survival chances of wildlife and habitat.”
According to Michaud, who is still resident at the lodge, ranger patrols were vital to stop illegal logging and hunting, which is lethal for mammals such as pangolins, gibbons, deer and wild cats.
GTAEF, which is based in northern Thailand, pays the lion’s share of the rangers’ wages in the Cambodia project.
“Unfortunately, our foundation’s income is also largely derived from tourism which has stopped. So a FundRazr page is our last best hope for forest and wildlife protection in Botum Sakor for the next few months, until tourism picks up again,” Roberts said.
To donate to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, click here.
Featured image: World Animal Protection/Nick Axelrod