In March 2020, a massive migration began when an international travel ban to curb COVID-19 brought Thailand’s tourism industry to a sudden halt. Elephant camps, which use more than 2,700 captive elephants for controversial trekking, bathing and riding tours, were hit by the double whammy of a lack of tourist revenue and relentless gargantuan food bills. Dozens of camps shut down, and elephants and staff were laid off in their thousands. Many of those elephants were leased from owners who live in remote rural locations, where the tradition of keeping elephants goes back generations. Faced with an uncertain future and looming food shortages in tourism hubs, hundreds of elephants and their keepers trekked back to their native villages, where cash-strapped owners hoped the elephants could forage naturally in the forest until tourism returned. “People thought [the COVID-19 crisis] would last a couple months, but now it has been one year,” says Saengduean “Lek” Chailert, founder of Save Elephant Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Chiang Mai province that rescues and rehabilitates animals from across the country. Like many, she says she was hopeful the elephants’ return home would be the beginning of a significant change in their working lives. Elephants and their keepers trekking back home through dry forest in Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province in May 2020. Image courtesy of Save Elephant Foundation. Back in chains Last year, Lek accompanied a group on the arduous walk home to their Karen villages in northwest Thailand. Their five-day journey of…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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