Sumatran elephants in Bali now Critically endangered in an elephant park forced to close caused by the COVID-19 pandemic .You cannot imagine a skinny elephant until you see one,” said Femke Den Haas, a veterinarian from the Netherlands who has been working to protect wildlife in Indonesia for 20 years.“ They are big animals and you’re not meant to see their bones. But that’s what they were – just skin and bones.” Bali Elephant Camp (BEC) is a safari-style park, a half-hour drive north of Ubud, the Indonesian island’s cultural capital, that offered a range of nature-based activities like bike-riding through rice fields, and white-water rafting. In 2005, BEC joined a wildlife conservation program run by the Ministry of Forestry that entrusts privately-owned zoos and safari parks in Indonesia with the care of critically endangered Sumatran elephants. A 2007 study by the World Wildlife Fund found there were as few as 2,400 Sumatran elephants left in the wild, and the number now is thought to have halved as a result of poaching for ivory, human-elephant conflict, and deforestation. Between 1980 and 2005 – the equivalent of only one and a half elephant generations – 67 percent of the potential Sumatran elephant’s habitat was lost. In the wild, the animal was listed as ‘critically endangered’ in 2012.
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The elephants for the parks and zoos are sourced from breeding centers established 30 years ago in Sumatra in a program that was supposed to help stabilize the population. In exchange for giving the animals a home, accredited businesses were permitted to sell elephant-tourism services that were wildly profitable before the pandemic. BEC was charging $230 for a half-hour elephant ride for two people. The birth of three baby elephants over the past 15 years suggests BEC was not only meeting but exceeding its animal welfare requirements. “Our friends in conservation say we have some of the healthiest, happiest elephants they’ve ever seen!” the company’s website boasts. But photographs taken by a wildlife veterinarian at the park in May and shared exclusively with Al Jazeera showed several severely undernourished elephants.