BANGKOK (AFP): Elephants are returning to Bangkok after being banished three months ago, forcing a showdown with authorities who say they have no place in the busy city. “Thirty-eight elephants have returned to the city since mid-May and are living around Ramkamheng,” a Bangkok suburb, veterinarian Alongkorn Mahannop of the Dusit Zoo told AFP today. “There is no food for the elephants in the northeast [where they were sent by Bangkok authorities], no native trees or grass for them to eat, so they came back to the city,” he said. Though life in Bangkok is difficult for elephants, the tuskers eat fairly well there, thanks to tourists who pay their handlers several dollars a time to feed bananas to the beasts. But the Bangkok governor’s office ordered the animals out of the city in March after several of them were involved in traffic accidents on Bangkok’s notoriously chaotic roads. In February, a bull elephant frightened by sounds from motorcycles and cars went on a rampage, bringing traffic in a section of the city centre to a standstill for several hours. Though no one was injured on that occasion, a motorcyle taxi driver was killed when he slammed into an elephant, injuring his passenger and the animal. In another case, an elephant died after being hit by a car, and other tuskers have injured themselves after falling into manholes in the busy thoroughfares. Bangkok officials rounded up elephants living in the city and trucked them out to Thailand’s rural northeast. Most of them migrated from there up to a decade ago as traditional work, such as haulage, became scarce. The elephant handlers were given between 1,000 and 8,000 baht (25 and 200 dollars) to take their charges away from the city, and they were promised new jobs in the northeast. But provincial authorities did not deliver on the promises, and few trainers found the work they needed to buy food for their pachyderms, prompting them to return to the city. At the time of the ban, Deputy Bangkok Governor Thirachai Wuddhidham warned that elephant handlers who defied the order and brought their tuskers back to the capital would have their animals confiscated by police. Alongkorn said the emotional issue could figure in the July 23 election for a new Bangkok governor. The vet said he was hopeful the tuskers’ situation would be different after the city’s administration changes. “Hopefully the new Bangkok governor will have more concern for the elephants, who have a big role in Thai history … and will provide a better solution for the animals,” he said. [Readers with views about elephants in populated areas may wish to vote in this week’s Gazette Poll at https://thethaiger.com.]
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