Americans who have visited South East Asia are being asked to support an international campaign to help feed starving elephants affected by the tourism downturn and COVID-19 travel restrictions. There is a danger that hundreds of elephants may starve to death with no tourists visiting camps, sanctuaries and wildlife parks, according to the World Elephant Foundation.
“Elephants are literally the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says WEF director Nudplee Hamundee in announcing the ‘Save the Asian Elephant’ campaign to raise awareness and funds to help protect the large mammals during the pandemic lockdown. “Elephant shelters and parks throughout Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, which normally rely on tourists for revenue, face many challenges to survive in 2020.”
South-East Asia is heavily dependent on tourism, so when visitor numbers starting dropping in mid-January, it caused financial distress for the elephant owners, carers and herders. “The outlook is grim. An elephant can eat between 200 and 400 kilograms a day of food, such as grass, bamboo and crops, but money is running out to feed these animals, as it costs US$12-20 to supply enough food each day.”
Many elephant camps rely on volunteers, using additional funds to further animal welfare, combat smuggling and encourage conservation and habitat restoration, but Mr Hamundee says while Americans can postpone their travel to South East Asia, the elephants need to eat. WEF estimates that there are several thousand elephants throughout the region who are going hungry since all tourist activity was stopped. “If nothing is done, many of these elephants may starve to death. Some could be sold for illegal logging or hard labour, and pregnant females smuggled. There is no government support to help these elephants, that is why we are reaching out to friends of elephants around the world, including the USA, to help save the Asian elephant during these difficult times.”
He says reports from the field suggest that many elephants are showing signs of stress and depression. WEF is working in the hardest hit area, in northeast Thailand, in co-operation with Supatra Sonsong to help 15 elephants, including three babies, providing them with food and medical needs. “Compassionate friends around the globe can help sponsor an individual elephant. Unfortunately, in the months to come, we believe there will be another 300 elephants in the region who need our help to survive this year.”
He is optimistic that concerned Americans who have visited South East Asia, as well as those planning to visit after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, will show solidarity not just with fellow humans, but with other mammals sharing the earth. “Our vision is for a world where animals live free from suffering. But it is only by working together we can change the world for animals.”