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Bangkok to confiscate jumbos roaming its streets

BANGKOK – Elephants roaming the streets of the Thai capital will soon be confiscated from their handlers if city officials have their way, after a series of traffic accidents involving the animals.

Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej said his administration plans a new law to confiscate tuskers that beg for money or food.

“I will ask the city council to pass a law to seize elephants walking on Bangkok streets,” Samak said.

Veterinarians at Thailand’s Royal Bureau estimate 15 elephants have been injured in road accidents so far this year, against 20 last year.

Mahouts desperate to escape hunger and poverty in the countryside are bringing increasing numbers of jumbos into the capital as traditional logging and construction jobs dry up.

Dozens of elephants are thought to be roaming Bangkok’s streets at any given time.

Thais pay to walk under their bellies, which they believe will bring good luck and tourists get a thrill from feeding them.

Though Bangkok banned elephants last year, they soon resumed trickling back.
But more and more of the beasts are being hit by vehicles or falling into open sewers.

Regular police fines do not deter the handlers, who say it is still profitable to make a living from  begging.

Conservationists call for urgent measures.

“Mahouts don’t want to go back home as they can make good money here,” Soraida Salwala of the Friends of the Asian Elephant said recently. “I don’t believe they don’t have any money if they can buy an elephant worth as much as 300,000 baht.”

Samak said the seized elephants would go to a rehabilitation and training camp in Lampang, 604 km (377 miles) north of Bangkok, before being returned to the jungle.

Experts say 2,000 elephants are estimated to still roam wild in Thailand, with another 2,500 tame or domesticated, but their number as a whole has fallen more than half in the last 20 years.

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