Battle over elephant’s death

PHUKET TOWN : Veterinarian Taweepoke Angkawanish of the Lampang-based Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) has held a press conference at Phuket Provincial Livestock Department to explain his role in the controversial death of an elephant he admits to having treated without its owner’s permission. The pachyderm, a female in her 40s named Phang Wassana, died at about 5 pm on November 11 after receiving four injections from Dr Taweepoke about seven hours earlier. The animal’s owner, Thamrong Tantiwiwachakul, was outraged when he heard about the loss of the animal and vowed to file charges against the veterinarian. Dr Taweepoke, who travels around Thailand with the National Mobile Elephant Clinic, was visibly upset at finding himself accused of having killed one of the animals he has devoted his life to helping. He told reporters, “I am a veterinarian. I found a seriously ill elephant and I had to do something to [try to] help it. Now I am feeling very sad.” “The elephant appeared to be in a catatonic state. When I first saw her, I thought to myself she would never make it, that she was going to die very soon,” Dr Taweepoke said. “I came from Lampang to check on the health of the elephants here. I found Phang Wassana on Sunday. She was perfectly still, with no flapping of her ears or movement of her tail. From an inspection of her feces, it was apparent that she was having difficulty digesting food,” he said. “We found many infected wounds on her head. It appeared that she had been stabbed with a sharp metal object. There were other wounds over her torso and around her anus. I think she had been sick for about a month and had suffered from malnutrition and dehydration before going into a catatonic state. “I tried to help her by giving her antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicine and vitamins. We tested her blood and feces and concluded she was anemic. We are awaiting lab results to see if she was also suffering from tuberculosis,” Dr Taweepoke said at the press conference on Wednesday. The elephant’s owner, K. Thamrong, told the Gazette today that he had decided not to file charges against K. Taweepoke – but only because he wanted to go on using elephants for his business “without any problems”. K. Thamrong insisted that Phang Wassana was only tired, not ill, when given the unauthorized treatment. He added that the elephant’s mahout, Boonyong Sai-chana, tried to tell Dr Taweepoke that vets from the Livestock Department had given the animal only vitamins – not medicines – just a few days earlier during a routine check-up, because she seemed tired. “When the team from the TECC arrived, they were told by the PPLO vets that there was a sick elephant here, so they came to take a look at her,” explained K. Thamrong. “She died because she was given an overdose. They gave her four injections and 20 tablets. That was too much for her because she was given medicine during her last check on November 8 by the PPLO vet. “They didn’t even ask me to come. If they had asked me, I would have told them that the elephant had already been given medicine. I am not in the wrong in this case.” As for accusations of burying the body before it could be examined, K. Thamrong said he would not allow the TECC to conduct the examination because they were not only biased, but “also think they know more about elephants than anybody else”. Responding to the reports about the wounds on the animal, K. Thamrong said they were caused as parasites left the elephant’s body after she had been given medicine. As for the head wounds, he said they were the result of the need to get the elephant to work. “It’s only a way of controlling the elephant, not of beating or abusing her,” he said. Sunart Wongchawalit, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Livestock Department told the Gazette yesterday that it was unlikely that Phang Wassana had died from an allergic reaction to the medicine. Such a reaction, he pointed out, would have occurred within 15-20 minutes of the injection – not seven hours later. “She died of shock, not an allergic reaction. She was catatonic and should not have been moved. “But after Dr Taweepoke treated her, the mahout tried to take her to a water hole. This caused her to collapse. Then they tried to lift her with a crane, which was also improper,” he said. “She could have recovered if she had been treated on time, but the owner wasn’t even aware that she was sick,” said K. Sunart. “The standard of treatment for elephants in Phuket is [generally] satisfactory,” he continued. “But the PPLO needs to raise all elephant camps on the island to the same standards. We need to keep all 170 of our elephants healthy and happy.” He also mentioned that the elephants arev worth their weight in gold in the all-important tourism industry, generating about 100 million baht a year for the local economy.

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Legacy Phuket Gazette

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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