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Life

Thailand's elephant community caught in coronavirus fallout

Closure of tourism camps imperils captive animals and their careers

After Thailand closed elephant camps, many expelled the animals and their trainers rather than continue paying for them. A large number of those who left began a long trek homeward along dusty roads in the blazing heat of the dry season. (Courtesy of Save Elephant Foundation)

BANGKOK -- As the COVID-19 epidemic envelops the globe, human casualties are mounting fast, with no region unaffected. In Thailand, which has seen a slow but steady rise to more than 2,500 infections and 38 deaths as of April 13, the outbreak also threatens a catastrophe for another major species: elephants.

The abrupt shutdown of Thai elephant camps -- dotted throughout the country -- has imperiled the lives of thousands of captive animals whose main job is to serve the 40 million foreign tourists who flock annually to Thailand, where riding an elephant has become a controversial bucket-list attraction.

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