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Bangkok imposes fines for feeding elephants

July 13, 2010 |  1:56 pm

An elephant with its mahout in Bangkok

BANGKOK — You can still feed elephants in Thailand's bustling capital -- but it could cost you.

Bangkok authorities said Monday anyone caught handing bunches of bananas or sugar cane to the hulking beasts -- proffered by their handlers to make money -- faces a $320 (10,000 baht) fine.

Thailand has about 2,400 domestic elephants. There is little demand these days for the animals' traditional skills in logging and other labor, so owners sometimes loan them for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.

"The ordinance is issued to prevent untidiness or danger toward properties and lives of Bangkok residents," said Manit Techa-apichoke, deputy director of the City Law Enforcement Department, adding there had been cases of elephants hurting people and falling into drains.

Friends of the Asian Elephant, a Thai non-government group that cares for injured or mistreated elephants, called the fines a good start.

"I've been asking for them to do this for 15 years," said its founder, Soraida Salwalla, adding that she hoped other Thai cities would follow suit. "It's not the total solution, but it's a help."

Previously, mahouts -- as elephant handlers are known -- and their accomplices were fined for bringing an elephant into Bangkok, but those feeding the animal escaped punishment. Typically a tourist would pay 20 baht ($0.62) for the privilege of handing a bunch of fruit or vegetables into the elephant's trunk.

Manit said those caught feeding the animals would be fined, though they may be warned first.

He said authorities had caught 30 elephants in Bangkok the last four months, but none since the new ordinance took effect July 1, although handlers were finding ways to circumvent the crackdown.

"Mahouts have adopted a new tactic of using baby elephants and taking them from place to place on a pickup truck," he said. "They now work in the suburbs, instead of camping right in the heart of the city as they used to."

RELATED ELEPHANT NEWS:
African elephants imperiled by ivory trade in Asia
A woman and her elephants (Times Q&A with African elephant researcher Cynthia Moss)

-- Associated Press

Photo: A mahout waits for customers in 1999, working a section of Bangkok known for its nightlife in 1999. Credit: David Longstreath / Associated Press

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