Yesterday, Bangkok announced that anyone feeding elephants in the city would be fined 10,000 baht, or $320, according to the Associated Press. The AP provides some economic context:
Thailand has about 2,400 domestic elephants. There is little demand these days for the animals’ traditional skills in logging and other labor, so owners sometimes loan them for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.
Previously, mahouts – as elephant handlers are known – and their accomplices were fined for bringing an elephant into Bangkok, but those feeding the animal escaped punishment. Typically a tourist would pay 20 baht ($0.62) for the privilege of handing a bunch of fruit or vegetables into the elephant’s trunk.
A law-enforcement official said that 30 illegal elephants had been caught in Bangkok in the past four months. As enforcement grows more strict, the official said, the elephant wranglers have adopted evasive tactics, “using baby elephants and taking them from place to place on a pickup truck.”
An Agence France-Presse story explains that urban life is unwholesome for the elephants:
Activists warn that car fumes and narrow streets often leave the elephants with eye calluses and tuberculosis and make them vulnerable to leg injuries.