Cox's Bazar : More than 20 horses have died of starvation in just one month at Bangladesh's most popular resort district, the animals' owners said Sunday, as the country's tourism industry reels from the pandemic's economic fallout.

The South Asian nation of 168 million people is battling a fresh wave of coronavirus infections that have stretched its healthcare systems and triggered a nationwide lockdown.

The horses owners said they were struggling to afford fodder for their animals, which are used for tourist rides at Cox's Bazar, beach - one of the world's longest.

''Once the coronavirus hit, tourist numbers.............. sharply dropped to a trickle,'' Farida Begum, a spokesperson of the Cox's Bazar Horse Owners Association, told AFP.

''We are struggling to make ends meet. How can we feed the horses?''

Tourists had briefly returned to the district from December to February when infections slowed, but visits dried up under the fresh lockdown imposed from April 1.

At least 21 horses out of up to 90 used for tourists at the beach died over the past month while others were emaciated, Begum said.

During last year's lockdown, 41 horses - including eight from Begum's own - died, she added.

Some owners have set their horses free, hoping they can survive by eating grass or foraging for food.

The horse owners say they have been struggling to feed their own families, with many taking out loans from microlenders just to make ends meet.

''Officials from the microlender come to my home every week and badger me to pay back the loan in instalments. But unless the tourists start arriving in Cox's Bazar, I can't pay back the money,'' Begum said, adding that she had borrowed 100,000 taka [$1,200] 

Dozens of horse handlers usually hired by the owners to help tourists with the rides have switched to driving rickshaws or construction work. [AFP]


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