Santa Claus gave his sleigh and reindeer a break on Wednesday and rode elephants in Thailand during a special Christmas visit aimed at raising awareness about the threat of the coronavirus.

White-bearded handlers in floppy hats and Santa outfits sat atop elephants decked out in tinsel and trunk masks in the central province of Ayutthaya, distributing protective masks in baskets to schoolchildren, motorcyclists and drivers passing by.

“They are funny and they are lovely. I think they are so cute,” said elementary student Laksaporn Loetpiriyakamol.

The elephants have been paying year-end visits to schools in the area for two decades and normally give out gifts like candy and toys using their trunks.

This year, the pachyderms were social distancing, staying outside the schools and used their trunks to offer the face masks in baskets instead.

“These four elephants want to represent Thai Santa Claus to encourage people to wear masks, wash their hands and follow government instructions,” said Itthi Pankhawlamai, who manages a local elephant park.

Due to the recent spike in Covid-19 spreading in Thailand, the elephants distributed masks to students and passersby instead of traditional gifts.

Due to the recent spike in Covid-19 spreading in Thailand, the elephants distributed masks to students and passersby instead of traditional gifts.
Image: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

“I’m a little bit excited and sad because the elephants can’t go into the school,” said Pacharamon Sukphiromsanti, 12, who came out to greet the elephants at the gates.

Thai authorities are urging extra caution after its worst outbreak was confirmed at the weekend, at a seafood centre near Bangkok, with cases since detected in about a quarter of the country’s provinces.

Each year, elephants from the Royal Elephant Palace in Ayuttaya visit school children before Christmas to hand out presents.

Each year, elephants from the Royal Elephant Palace in Ayuttaya visit school children before Christmas to hand out presents.
Image: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

An elephant wearing a protective mask is seen during a distribution event of protective masks to students, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), ahead of Christmas celebrations at a school in Ayutthaya, Thailand December 23, 2020.

An elephant wearing a protective mask is seen during a distribution event of protective masks to students, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), ahead of Christmas celebrations at a school in Ayutthaya, Thailand December 23, 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

Thai elephants dressed as Santa Claus deliver face masks to children at the Jirasat Wittaya elementary school on December 23, 2020 in Phra Nakhon si Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Thai elephants dressed as Santa Claus deliver face masks to children at the Jirasat Wittaya elementary school on December 23, 2020 in Phra Nakhon si Ayutthaya, Tha

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