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have always played an integral part in Thai culture and Thai history.
All Thai kings had a stable of white elephants and the animals
once decorated the national flag and currency.
Only ten years ago Thailand still had 4000 elephants.
Nowadays only 2500 remain.
A few centuries ago elephants were used as war weapons. A famous elephant battle
happened between the Thai King Naresuan and the Burmese Crown Prince
in year 1593.
In year 2000
a spontaneous and popular movement happened in order to rescue an elephant
called "Motala". This elephant has walked on a mine and one of its legs has to be imputed.
Thai people love elephants. But other problems remain for elephants in Thailand.
The forest surface has decreased a lot due to deforestation and eucalyptus
plantations and now only represent 28 % of the Thailand. Shriking forests,
poaching and conflicts with farmers have hit Thai elephants very hard.
In year 2000
several elephants were returned to Thailand.
They have been sent a few years ago in Indonesia to help round
up wild elephants whose increasing numbers were considered a threat to
people and their crops. Once again a popular movement supported by deputies
has gathered the money to pay for the repatriation of Thai elephants.
With less work in the forests
(there is no longer much logging work, their main former occupation), less food in the
forests, some mahouts bring their elephants in big cities like Bangkok.
For mahouts it can be a good opportunity to earn money. Thai people and
tourists have a soft spot in their hearts for the elephant.
Thai mahouts say that they have no other way of making a living for their
animals. But Bangkok streets are dangerous for elephants. They get sick from breathing
exhaust fumes, drinking dirty water, walking over concrete pavements, getting smashed by cars.
Also it is not always easy to find 200 kg of herbs
everyday in Bangkok. Elephants can endamage roads and are also dangerous for citizens.
In year 2000 a bull elephant went berserk
in the heart of Bangkok when someone teased it with a stick of sugar cane.
Bangkok administration has tried to chase
elephants from the city. Several elephants died of starvation.
The government has cracked down street elephants in cities.
Many elephants have been diverted to cities suburbs.
Some elephants are victims
of brutal treatment by keepers who abuse them in illegal logging.
Elephants are jabbed with knives and spears, overworked and
overdosed on amphetamines to increase their stamina.
On some days the mahouts earn up to 2000 baht. So it is tempting for
more and more mahout / elephant teams to come from Surin and neighbouring
provinces into Bangkok and other big cities.
There are about 2400 domesticated elephants being raised in various locations
in Thailand. Wild elephants cannot be registered to prevent making worse the
problem of elephants in Thai cities.
Tourism appears to be one answer. Jumbo-tourism is sprouting
up everywhere with its good and bad consequences. Up to 70% of baby elephants
used in tourism are believed to have been poached from the wild. Phuket is
the major culprit with up to 400-500 young animals used in hotels and
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center in the
northern town of Lampang was opened in 1992 to
help to preserve knowledge about elephants and mahouts.
When young calves are separated from their mother
before reaching three years old, it endangers their life. They need their
mother's milk to strengthen their bones. Poachers often kill the mother to
get the calf. Thai officials have difficulties to prosecute the poachers
because elephants under age eight are not required to be registered.
Every year in november the Thai biggest elephant gathering takes
place in Surin. Surin is located in "ISAN"
area in the northeast of Thailand. Elephants dance, re-create battles and
White elephants are the monarchy symbol.
The king of Thailand has always several white elephants in his stables.
A Thai reign is supposed to be lucky if the king has several white
elephants. A few centuries ago a war happened between Burma and Thailand as
the Burmese king wanted to steal Thai white elephants.
Presence of the royal white elephants is still a brahmanist presence. The
elephants are supposed to bring luck to the King and the Kingdom.
March 13 is Thai Elephant Day.
Elephants, symbol of Thailand, are also displayed on standard Thai stamps.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's emblem also shows the green god Indra, carrying his three-bladed
weapon. He is seated atop a white four tusked elephant. A Prince granted the emblem to the Administration
in year 1938. It is displayed on city flag, on city buildings, on city motor
Thailand's national symbol remains the elephant.
Erawan Museum is well known for its giant three-headed elephant art display.
The three storeys inside the Museum contain antiquities and collections of
ancient religious objects.
Every year in September there is the Kings Cup Elephant Polo Tournament
to help raise awareness and money for the Thai elephants.
Bushes in public gardens or Thai Buddhist temples are often shaped as animals.
The elephant shape is one of the most favorite.
Devotees offer elephants in some Thai Buddhist temples related to Thai Kings. The size
of elephants varies according to the extent of devotion shown by the devotee and according
to what he can afford.
Ganesh, Hindu god, can often be seen in Thailand. He is recognised by his elephant head
and pot belly. The insignia of Fine Arts Department
of Thailand and National theater is formed by Ganesh (พระคเนศ).
Walking under an elephant belly is supposed to bring luck.
Some Thai Buddhist temples have been built on the location where
an elephant decided to die. Such temples contain an elephant shrine and
many elephant statues.
The shrine contains an elephant covered with flower garlands, various donations
Those two elephants are holding the Dharma wheel thanks to their trunk.
It sumbolizes the wheel of Buddhist Law, the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.
This picture shows Ganesh, the Hindu god, in a Thai Buddhist temple. He is recognised
by his elephant head and pot belly. A Buddha statue is enshrined on top of his head.
Thai Buddhism is fascinating because it is mixed with older religions (Animism, Brahmanism),
which were present before the introduction of Buddhism in Thailand.
Even in places a bit far away from big city like Nakhon Pathom, it is possible
to spot an elephant in the village!
The elephant was brought by a few young men selling sugar canes.
The fee was 20 baht for a sugar cane bag in order to feed the elephant.
It is still sad to see those beautiful animals begging instead of living
inside the Thai forests.