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Royal Forestry Department takes over hairy tusker search

BANGKOK РHeeding a request by the Royal Forestry Department (RFD), two expeditions yesterday halted their unfinished search for the hairy “Thai mammoths”.

Volunteer veterinarian Prasit Molichart revealed yesterday that the teams led by Princess Rangsrinopadorn Yukol, a noted forest conservationist who coined the term “Thai mammoth” for the large hairy elephants she spotted in Chiang Mai’s Omkoi district, had stopped their journey.

The expeditions, which kicked off on Wednesday, were prompted by the release on Sunday of hazy aerial photos taken when the Princess sighted the unusual tuskers, regarded as possible descendants of the extinct mammoths.

“They are on their way back from Doi Musur to Chiang Mai’s urban areas,” he said, adding that the teams would discuss further plans after their return to the city yesterday evening.

RFD director-general Plodprasop Suraswadi urged the expedition leaders to suspend their journey into the Omkoi wildlife sanctuary, citing security concerns. He invited them to join another expedition by the RFD instead.

Plodprasop said a departmental expedition would set off tomorrow morning from Bangkok for Chiang Mai, and return on Monday. Local RFD officers would provide the team with helicopters when it reached the sanctuary.

“We have never discovered hairy elephants in Thailand but I prefer not to say whether the unusual elephants are from the mammoth species,” he said.

Plodprasop, who will also participate in the expedition, assured that results of their inquiry into reported sightings of the hairy tuskers would be released to the public as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Kasetsart University forestry lecturer Naris Poompakphan said the pachyderms seen in the pictures were common Asian elephants. “Our graduate students also saw this type of elephant and there are many of its kind found in Malaysia,” he said.

Naris said he supported elephant conservation but believed it was unnecessary and “setting the wrong trend” to attract people’s attention this way. “I think it’s better to inform people with academic information,” he said, adding that mammoths were ancient creatures that lived in the tundra.

In response to Naris’ comment, Prasit said the Princess and the Thai Elephant Conservation Group in the North alerted people to the large hairy pachyderms in good faith. He said the purpose of the expedition was to promote elephant conservation, more research about the tuskers and a ban on wildlife hunting.

“If [the mammoths] exist, we should be delighted. I don’t think any academics disagreeing with the expedition should accuse those initiating the search of setting the wrong trend,” he said.

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