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Vagrant Elephants Banned From Bangkok City

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Mahouts get two weeks to leave town

Handlers face arrest, animals to be seized

BANGKOK: Mahouts who take their elephants out begging on city streets have been given two weeks to leave town or face arrest.

Plodprasop Suraswadi, permanent secretary for natural resources and environment, said their elephants would be seized and released in the forest.

A special team of forestry officials, government mahouts and police was being formed to handle the problem. A hotline would be set up for members of the public to inform authorities of the whereabouts of mahouts and elephants.

Mahouts who defy the order to leave the city would face charges under 10 laws ranging from traffic violations to wildlife smuggling.

The elephants would be sent to shelters in Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son provinces, he said.

``We believe half of the animals are wild elephants smuggled in from Burma and Cambodia,'' he said.

Harsh action was deemed necessary to end the problem, Mr Plodprasop said.

As many as 250 elephants were believed to have arrived in the city in recent weeks and were roaming the streets at night. Their handlers begged money from people, selling them food they then fed to the animals.

Mr Plodprasop said the return of elephants to the streets demonstrated the failure of the forest patrol project, under which the elephants and their handlers rounded up on the streets were given jobs of patrolling and protecting the forests. Of the 100 mahouts who joined the programme 80 had since dropped out, he said. The mahouts could not adjust to their new jobs.

``Some of the elephants appeared to fear the spirits, their feet were too soft to walk on the rough paths and they became ill,'' Mr Plodprasop said.

``Their owners, who were more familiar with the lights of the city, also feared the forest spirits.''

Mr Plodprasop said domesticated elephants could be best employed in the tourism industry, where there was a demand for rides by visitors who wanted to see the forests.

--Bangkok Post 2003-12-16

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