Feed Bangkok Elephants and Be Fined

Pay the elephant handler 20 baht and you can feed a bunch of bananas or a piece of sugar cane to a real life elephant. An easy way for handlers to make a little extra money, up until now, tourists have been able to feed the Bangkok elephants. But no more. Yesterday, Bangkok authorities announced that anyone caught handing food to the hulking beasts faces a 10,000 baht fine.

There are approximately 2,400 domestic elephants in Thailand and because of the shrinking demand for their traditional skills in logging and other hard labor, the owners sometimes loan them for begging from tourists and locals in big cities.

“The ordinance is issued to prevent untidiness or danger toward properties and lives of Bangkok residents,” said Manit Techa-apichoke, who is 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 nongovernment group which cares for injured or mistreated elephants thinks that the fines are 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, elephant handlers, or mahouts, were fined for bringing elephants into Bangkok, but anyone who fed the animals escaped punishment. Typically a tourist would pay a couple of baht for the privilege of handing a bunch of fruit or vegetables into the elephant’s trunk.

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

He said authorities had caught 30 elephants in Bangkok the past 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.”

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