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Teerapong "Non" Sakdanarongsri, a former mahout at a commercial elephant park, enjoys a quiet moment with Sierra, a 16-month-old female elephant who already weighs 400 kg. At Elephant Freedom Village, the camp he founded eight years ago, only "positive reinforcement techniques" are used. (Photo by Adam Oswell)
The Big Story

Thailand's elephant tourism endangered by COVID blow to global travel

Plunge in visitor numbers throws animals and owners into crisis

DOMINIC FAULDER, Nikkei Asia associate editor | Southeast Asia

BANGKOK -- Jimh, a 29-year-old female elephant, gets an outdoor shower before she swims each day, descending large, flat steps and plunging into a massive, 4-meter deep blue pool.

The show takes place three times daily at Khao Kheow Open Zoo on the Gulf of Thailand's eastern seaboard and lasts about 20 minutes. After watching Jimh splash around, the mostly Thai crowd of about 40 people descends into a long chamber with rows of backless benches. Behind a massive glass wall, Jimh swims energetically, occasionally standing on her hind legs or poking her trunk up for air.

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