A VOLUNTEERING couple have described the burden of the lockdown on the tourism industry and protection of animals.

Julie and Stephen Kortens have been living at Elephant Rescue Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for the past two years.

They left their life in Brighton and their families in Sussex behind – and because of the planned quarantine they now do not know when they will be able to return.

Stephen, 56, said the lack of tourists means the elephant park is struggling to feed the magnificent beasts, which weigh up to nearly five tons and need constant support.

He said: “A fully grown elephant eats up to ten per cent of its body weight each day.

“Thailand has also been suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades and wild fires are affecting the supply and price of food.”

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Julie, 54, said they have been working as tour guides at the park, but without visitors the revenue is not coming in.

She said: “Nobody could have predicted coronavirus and the devastating impact it would have.”

Thailand has a state of emergency in place until June 30 and the couple have had to stay in the remote northern province during the lockdown.

Many of the measures have been similar to those here in the UK, but the couple say there have been stricter rules such as beaches being completely closed and daily curfews between 10pm and 4am.

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Meanwhile every time they enter their apartment block, they have their temperature taken to see if they have symptoms of the disease.

But things are slowly starting to reopen there and this week they were able to return to the park, which had been closed, for the first time in weeks.

Stephen said: “We saw the elephants for the first time in six weeks yesterday.

“It was so special. Each and every one has their own personality and they appeared as excited to see us as we were to see them – probably as they thought we would feed them bananas.”

Now the couple, who used to live off Western Street in Brighton, are doing their bit to support the eight elephants being looked after at the park, raising awareness on social media instead of giving their regular daily tours.

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Julie said: “The key challenges are providing enough food and medicine for our elephants to keep them healthy. We own all of our elephants.

Many parks rent their elephants, so with no visitors, they have simply given them back to their owners.

This may involve walking the elephants over many miles and days back to the remote villages where they came from.

Anyone who is interested in sponsoring a rescued elephant should visit elephantrescuepark.com.