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Thai elephants return to villages due to fall in tourist numbers

The pandemic has meant more than 100 of the animals are walking as far as 95 miles to their homes.

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Elephants who have lost their jobs at sanctuary parks due to the lack of tourists from the coronavirus pandemic are returning home to their natural habitats. (Save Elephant Foundation via AP)

Elephants who have lost their jobs at sanctuary parks due to the lack of tourists from the coronavirus pandemic are returning home to their natural habitats. (Save Elephant Foundation via AP)

Elephants who have lost their jobs at sanctuary parks due to the lack of tourists from the coronavirus pandemic are returning home to their natural habitats. (Save Elephant Foundation via AP)

Dozens of elephants have been sent back to their natural habitats in Thailand as a fall in tourist numbers due to Covid-19 mean sanctuaries lack funds for their upkeep.

The pandemic has meant more than 100 of the animals are walking as far as 95 miles to their homes with a charity fundraising for those who are still at tourist parks.

The Save Elephant Foundation is also supporting the settling of elephants within their home communities.

Herds have walked from all over Chiang Mai to their homeland of Mae Chaem, which is dotted with villages where members of the Karen ethnic minority live and traditionally keep elephants.

At first I thought the situation would be back to normal within a month or two. At the end of April, I lost all hope

Sadudee Serichevee owns four elephants in Chiang Mai’s Mae Wang district.

He followed the foundation’s approach in setting up his own small Karen Elephant Experience park with elephants brought from Mae Chaem’s Ban Huay Bong, his wife’s village.

But his good intentions were no match for the coronavirus.

He said: “At first I thought the situation would be back to normal within a month or two. At the end of April, I lost all hope.”

He and his wife agreed to bring their elephants back to her village because they could no longer shoulder the monthly expenses of close to 200,000 baht (£5,000) for rental of land and facilities, salaries for handlers – known as mahouts – and food.

Elephants eat as much as 300 kilograms a day of grass and vegetables.

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A herd of 11 elephants walked with guides (Save Elephants Foundation/AP)

A herd of 11 elephants walked with guides (Save Elephants Foundation/AP)

AP

A herd of 11 elephants walked with guides (Save Elephants Foundation/AP)

They convinced some other owners to make the near 100-mile trek on foot with them.

Trucking the animals is prohibitively expensive for owners of small parks, and elephants can maintain a walking speed of 4.5mph.

Their caravan of 11 elephants, their owners and their mahouts, set out on April 30, travelling over hills, on paved and dirt roads and were greeted by a welcome-home party on their arrival at Ban Huay Bong on Monday.

Mr Sadudee said: “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.”

PA