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Thai Elephants Are Being Killed For Tourist Dollars

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Thai elephants are being killed for tourist dollars

Edwin Wiek

Special to The Nation

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News on elephants in Thailand since the start of this year has been dominated by the brutal killing of wild tuskers in Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks.

At least six wild elephants have been found dead within three weeks - and this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Both national parks occupy a very large area, with Kaeng Krachan being Thailand's biggest national park. Combined, the two national parks are home to at least 500 wild elephants.

In one of the first interviews after the discovery of five dead elephants, one government official alleged that these animals were killed to provide elephant meat and sexual organs for consumption at wildlife "bush-meat" restaurants on Phuket, for visiting foreign tourists. This news was extremely shocking to a big part of Thai society, but to date it has not been proven right. In fact, neither the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division (NRECD), or the office of the Phuket governor, have found any evidence that such a place exists. Nor can the official that made the statement give any weight to his claim. It seems like a deliberately made-up claim, for whatever reason, but the real reason for the killing of these elephants could be explained in a much easier way.

The value of young elephants at camps nationwide has soared because not enough babies are being born in captivity to meet the demand. Although we see stories in the news every now and then about the birth of babies at elephant camps, there are just not enough captive-born calves. This gap in demand and supply is reflected in the prices camp owners and businessmen are willing to pay. A two- to four-year-old female, for example, can now fetch a staggering Bt800,000 or Bt900,000.

Baby elephants are being taken out of the jungle in Thailand at any cost. Mothers are being shot and even their nannies and sub-adult males still with the herd, trying to protect the calves. Poachers, who have been interviewed, say it is common to kill up to three elephants to take one baby from the forest. Once a few elephants are killed, the baby elephant stays close to the dead adults while the rest of the herd usually runs for safety. Poachers then have limited time to get the baby out, fearing the return of the herd and/or any witnesses attracted by the sound of gunshots. This explains why some dead elephants have been found with their tusks intact. Removing and selling the tusks would be very lucrative - a small pair would easily fetch Bt100,000 - but it takes too much time.

Groups of poachers like these will receive about Bt300,000 from middlemen for baby elephants at specific places such as Suan Phueng in Ratchaburi and Sai Yok in Kanchanaburi. But this also occurs in the North, in areas such as Tak and Mae Hong Son provinces.

Once the babies have been taken away from the forest, they are moved to "safe houses" in border areas controlled by corrupt politicians, government officials and influential businessmen. Here, the young are "tamed" through week-long torture rituals to break their spirit. In many cases, they are then introduced to a "foster-mother", a captive female elephant. This introduction is particularly important for the future transportation of the elephant out of areas controlled by the criminals.

When transported, baby elephants are often said to be the offspring of the captive (legally owned) older female. The law in Thailand stipulates that any captive-born offspring needs to be registered - within nine years - so, this is a major loophole open to abuse.

Lately, however, gangs have been moving baby elephants in the back of closed, modified pick-up trucks. This is even more daring, and shows they have little fear of being caught, which is a clear sign they are backed up by influential people.

The profit for these gangs is huge, with elephant camps paying up to Bt900,000 for a baby, but the gang only paying the poachers about Bt300,000. Aside from some "costs" such as bribing officials on the way, they can make up to Bt500,000 per elephant.

It has been estimated that baby elephants are transported through Ratchaburi and Kanchanaburi at least twice a week. This suggests an annual turnover of at least 100 elephants, or Bt80-90 million, with a profit of Bt50 million for the smuggling gang.

In the recent past, the Thai government always denied that smuggled elephants were from Thailand, claiming they came from Burma. However, the latest findings in Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri indicate that this is a problem that also exists in Thailand and that it urgently needs to be taken seriously.

There is no need for denial; action has to be taken and it has to be transparent.

For any tourist visiting an elephant camp and riding these beautiful animals, the latest information has serious implications. People who ignore what is occurring effectively support the killing and torture of wild-born elephants.

For any government official or politician denying the above, I challenge them to visit the elephant camps in Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Samui, Chiang Mai, Phuket, or anywhere else in the country, and force the owners of all elephants of up to 20 years of age to allow a DNA check on their animals. That would verify whether young elephants really are the offspring of their alleged "mothers".

I strongly believe that over half of all young elephants in tourist camps nationwide are wild-caught. You can prove me wrong by undertaking a long-overdue DNA check. Indeed, I challenge you to verify the status of these glorious animals. This is the only way to reveal the true status of all young elephants and to wipe out this evil trade and the slaughter of a national icon.

Edwin Wiek is secretary-general of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). He can be contacted at edwin.wiek@wfft.org. See www.wfft.org.

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-- The Nation 2012-01-24

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Since that - unfortunately unnamed - government officials seems to be so eager to once again blame this tragedy on "foreign tourists" in an attempt to divert attention away from the real culprits, greedy locals, perhaps any investigation should start at his door step. By making these unfounded claims it looks to me like he were involved somehow.

Isn't there a system in place that tracks baby elephants born in captivity, perhaps being fitted with an electronic imbedded in their ear or something? That would perhaps make it easier to distinguish between elephants born in the wild from those bred in captivity. But then again, there probably would be more than enough corrypt officials who would issue such an electronic tag for appropriate tea money...

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It displaces the blame onto foreigners as the reason for the killing of elephants... instead of on the locals.

Well said, but those who skim the headlines won't ever understand the truth or reach this conclusion. This is an unbelievably creative headline considering the author writes "but to date it has not been proven right. In fact, neither the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division (NRECD), or the office of the Phuket governor, have found any evidence that such a place exists. Nor can the official that made the statement give any weight to his claim. It seems like a deliberately made-up claim"

The title should have read that elephants are being killed by greedy karen people indifferent to these majestic creatures in order to line their own pockets with illegal money.

Removing and selling the tusks would be very lucrative - a small pair would easily fetch Bt100,000 - but it takes too much time.

This is the one encouraging part of the article. The forestry department is out there doing their best to thwart the efforts of the hill tribes rather than turning a blind eye. This is different than what happens in my hill tribe area.

For any tourist visiting an elephant camp and riding these beautiful animals, the latest information has serious implications. People who ignore what is occurring effectively support the killing and torture of wild-born elephants.

This is something we can do to help. But most are uninformed. If it really is this serious, then put signs in front of the elephant camps explaining so people can make an informed decision.

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Didn't the Chiang Mai Night-Safari once propose an exotic-meats buffet at 4,000B/person, and attract world-wide bad-publicity as a result, perhaps Dr Plodprasop (now Science Minister) might clarify the government's current-position on elephant-meat for tourists ? sick.gif

Or perhaps he doesn't remember ... dry.png

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Since that - unfortunately unnamed - government officials seems to be so eager to once again blame this tragedy on "foreign tourists" in an attempt to divert attention away from the real culprits, greedy locals, perhaps any investigation should start at his door step. By making these unfounded claims it looks to me like he were involved somehow.

Isn't there a system in place that tracks baby elephants born in captivity, perhaps being fitted with an electronic imbedded in their ear or something? That would perhaps make it easier to distinguish between elephants born in the wild from those bred in captivity. But then again, there probably would be more than enough corrypt officials who would issue such an electronic tag for appropriate tea money...

Yes, for the best interests of the elephant's life, it would probably best for it if it was NOT easily track-able with an electronic finder.

.

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Didn't the Chiang Mai Night-Safari once propose an exotic-meats buffet at 4,000B/person, and attract world-wide bad-publicity as a result, perhaps Dr Plodprasop (now Science Minister) might clarify the government's current-position on elephant-meat for tourists ? sick.gif

Or perhaps he doesn't remember ... dry.png

The current "Small Boats In A Swollen, Flooded River Will Have An Impact" Science Minister, incidentally, the richest Cabinet Minister, in a previous role where he put elephant on the menu.

podpasob.jpg

Pheu Thai Party-list MP and former Chiang Mai Night Safari Project Director, Plodprasop Suraswadi

Chiang Mai Safari: Rare Animals On The Menu At Zoo, Eat lion, tiger, elephant, giraffe meat

CHIANG MAI: -- Visitors offered daily buffet of lion, tiger, elephant and giraffe meat; conservation groups outraged. Lovers of "wild" cuisine are in for a treat when Chiang Mai's Night Safari opens next year, Project Director Plodprasop Suraswadi said yesterday. Visitors to the park's Vareekunchorn restaurant will have the option of tucking in to an "Exotic Buffet" of tiger, lion, elephant and giraffe, for just Bt4,500 a head.

http://www.thaivisa....post__p__549707

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one government official alleged that these animals were killed to provide elephant meat and sexual organs for consumption at wildlife "bush-meat" restaurants on Phuket, for visiting foreign tourists

It seems like a deliberately made-up claim, for whatever reason

The reason is rudimentary and common place.

It displaces the blame onto foreigners as the reason for the killing of elephants... instead of on the locals.

.

What?? I must have read a different article that what you're quoting.

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one government official alleged that these animals were killed to provide elephant meat and sexual organs for consumption at wildlife "bush-meat" restaurants on Phuket, for visiting foreign tourists

It seems like a deliberately made-up claim, for whatever reason

The reason is rudimentary and common place.

It displaces the blame onto foreigners as the reason for the killing of elephants... instead of on the locals.

.

So how is it different from the alternative explanation by a westerner that the adults are shot so that the babies can be sent to camps where foreign tourists pay to ride them - same, same.

Edited by Card

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The government official was right to blame the foreign tourist for the elephants death. He just got the reason wrong. It isn't for the meat and sexual organs, it is for the tourist trade. Either way, the foreign tourists, are of course, to blame.

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Tourists from what countries?

I would guess mainland China, to start.

Taiwanese are nothing better

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