Captive elephants in Thailand are dependent on tourism.
  • Conservationists told BBC that Thailand's elephant population may starve without tourism.
  • Elephants, and elephant sanctuaries, are a popular tourist attraction in Thailand.
  • With the collapse of tourism, conservationists don't know how they will feed their elephants.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider's home page.

There are around 4,000 elephants living in captivity in Thailand. Their owners, whether operating sanctuaries or traditional businesses, rely on tourism to feed them.

With the collapse of tourism in the country, the elephants face starvation, the BBC first reported.

"Tourism has been the sustaining rhythm of life for a long time here, and for that pulse to flatline came so unexpected," Save the Elephants Foundation wrote on their Facebook page. "This crisis is both a challenge and a good teacher. It will take a communal effort and resilience to overcome and rebound hopefully into a better world, if wisdom and sound reflection prevail."

As of Wednesday, there were at least 1,771 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Thailand and 12 recorded deaths.

Lek Chailert, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation, told the BBC that if more help doesn't come soon, elephants will starve, or their owners might feel pressure to sell them to less humane outfits, like zoos or the illicit logging business.

The foundation, which is based in Thailand, has been delivering fresh grass to elephants in captivity around the country.

Fresh grass, though, isn't easy to come by in Thailand, Kerri McCrea, of Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, told BBC.

McCrea said that villagers recently brought 70 elephants to her Northern Thailand sanctuary because they can't feed them.

She has to drive up to three hours a day to find enough grasses to feed the animals, according to BBC. Local owners have been doing the same.

"Feeding elephants is a priority but the issue is that there's not enough forest left to feed them," she told the network.

As of March 26, Save the Elephant Foundation had fed 392 elephants around the country, but the owners of 842 elephants had requested help.

The organization is seeking donations to assist with feeding the elephants. As of Wednesday, it had raised more than $176,000.

"The worst-case scenario is that owners will have to chose between themselves and their elephants," McCrae told BBC. "The people here don't have much, but they're doing what it takes to keep the elephants alive for now."