Morpheus on… Thailand’s Street-Elephants

I understand that the latest Bangkok police “crackdown” – ordered by its bureaucrats – will be on tourists who feed Thailand’s wandering pachyderms.

These can be found – with their “mahouts” – in a number of popular tourist haunts. One even wanders past my house now and again (a sight which, even after having lived here for nearly a decade, I have never QUITE got used to).

And I have often paid their mahouts 100 baht (about £2/$3) for some bananas to feed these noble creatures (even though I have plenty of them in my own GARDEN – bananas, not elephants – keep up!) But sadly, no more. If caught, I now face a Police fine of 10,000 baht (about £200/$300).

At this point, I would have loved to have done a gag about a “trumped-up charge” and left it at that.

But tragically, it’s NOT funny. While the bureaucrats’ decision to heavily fine TOURISTS is obviously a monumentally STUPID one – which will do little to help Thailand’s already DESPERATE tourist industry, after SARS, Bird Flu, the Tsunami and recent Bangkok riots – there is actually a legitimate reason for it.

These leviathans should not BE on the street. Every time I see one of these poor beasts lumbering along a busy public road – often at night, with a little red light dangling from its tail – which would be funny were it not pathetic – I try not to imagine what would happen if one got HIT by one of the cars and trucks that go speeding past, inches from its flank.

And the suffering does not stop there. I understand that the life expectancy of these beasts is, statistically, only HALF that of one in the country. And not just because of elephant v traffic accidents – rather a myriad of other street-related dangers. Exhaust fumes, diseases and constant minor injuries from the many obstructions that fill the tiny side-streets.

Thus the crack-down IS justified. But while many mahouts are very poor – and elephants are expensive to maintain – and tourists are generally rich – it will likely make little difference. They’ll just employ lookouts.

And the bureaucrats setting the POLICE onto the mahouts (who now risk a 10,0oo baht fine AND six months in a Thai jail) AND Thailand’s much-needed tourists – are not HELPING the problem.

They claim they are going to put SIGNS up in tourist areas – as if signs are the solution to everything. The bureaucratic mind for you.

I would love to have an ending for this piece, but life does not always have neat endings. Crushing poverty and animal cruelty are problems where overnight solutions rarely offer themselves. I only pass on this information in the vain hope SOMEONE who reads it might be in a position to do something POSITIVE about it – something the Thai bureaucrats are signally UNABLE to do.

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