Mahouts try to bargain
for a place to stay

Promise to round up city elephants

Poona Antaseeda
Bangkok Post, March 14, 2000

A group of Surin mahouts has promised to help convince 40 other handlers to leave the city with their elephants if authorities agree to let them earn a living around Bangkok.

The pledge came as mahouts, officials and representatives of non-governmental agencies met in seminars in Ayutthaya and Surin to address the problem of too many elephants roaming city streets.

The mahouts who gave the promise were the same ones who last week rode their beasts from Rama IV road to Wat Samiannaree in Bang Khen in protest against the city administration's decision to banish them.

Before they left the city for Ayutthaya to join events marking Thai Elephant Day, the mahouts had vowed to return to Bangkok to continue the fight.

Their decision appeared to have averted a confrontation with city authorities including police who were reported to be fully prepared to deal with protesting elephant handlers and their beasts.

However, the threat of Bangkok being invaded by angry mahouts still remains as elephants handlers participating in the seminar in Surin yesterday refused to agree to stay away from Bangkok.

The mahouts at the seminar in Ayutthaya told Pol Col Vivat Vattanaviboon, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau 1, that they would not return to Bangkok if authorities agreed to allow them to earn their living in Bangkok's neighbouring provinces such as Pathumthani, Nonthaburi and Sara Buri.

They would also help talk other elephant handlers into leaving Bangkok.

"Now we are going to be banned in every province.. where can we go when we have nowhere to go? Bangkok has set an example for all other provinces," the mahouts complained during the seminar in Ayutthaya.

Also present at the seminar were forestry chief Plodprasop Suraswadi, veterinarian Alongkorn Mahannop from the Zoological Park Organisation, and Wildlife Fund secretary-general Surapol Duangkhae.

It was proposed at the seminar that all concerned should try to compromise and work together to find solutions to all problems over the elephants. "The problems of the elephants involve development, tourism and many other factors. To solve the problems, what is needed is co-operation, not confrontation or conflict. Solutions should also be worked out without elephants becoming the victims," Mr Surapol said.

Mr Plodprasop proposed that mahouts be recruited by the Forestry Department to work at some 150 national parks around the country. Each of the parks would be able to take from three to five elephants, he said. The elephants could also be used for eco-tourism, he added. However, Mr Plodprasop said, mahouts must accept the Forestry Department's rules and regulations, and must be willing to take a salary of only between 3,000-5,000 baht a month.

The forestry chief also urged the Interior Ministry to remove elephants from the 1940 Act on Beasts of Burden and put them in the conserved wildlife category instead so that elephants could be returned to the forest.

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