AYUTTHAYA — Police are searching for those responsible for killing a male elephant and sawing off its tusks, presumably to sell its ivory on the black market.
The 40-year-old male elephant was found dead with its tusks missing near Lopburi River yesterday morning. The elephant, nicknamed Klao, was owned by a local elephant breeder based in Suan Prik district.
Pan Sala-ngam, the elephant keeeper or mahout in charge of Klao, said the elephant was separated from its herd because of its aggressive manner. A group of mahouts had been watching the elephant as he grazed in a field during the day, but no watch was set up around the field at night, Mr. Pan said.
Police believe the perpetrators sneaked into the field at night and fed Klao a banana stuffed with sleeping pills, after which they killed the elephant and cut off its tusks.
"I wonder what the hearts of the culprits are made of. How could they be so cruel to elephants like this?" Mr. Pan said bitterly. "In the past there have been perpetrators stealing tusks from elephant enclosures in many provinces, but there haven’t been any arrests.”
Laithongrian Meepan, owner of the Wang Chang Lae Paniad elephant enclosure, said he moved more than 30 elephants into the elephant village for better security after he heard many stories of ivory traders killing elephants to remove their tusks in other provinces. Mr. Laithongrian said Klao was singled out to live outside the enclosure because of his aggressive behaviour.
"Previously, mahouts were given rifles and patrolled at night to look out for elephant killers, but recently the NCPO cracked down on the possession of firearms so mahouts have only been able to ride motorcycles to check on the elephants," Mr. Laithongrian said, referring to the military junta's National Council for Peace and Order.
He urged the authorities to take the case seriously as past perpetrators have rarely been punished.
"This elephant was right in the middle of the city, not in a forest. They have no fear of the law," Mr. Laithongrian said.
Based on the way in which the tusks were removed, Mr. Laithongrian said he believes the perpetrators were not mahouts or ivory experts.
"The perpetrators must be local teenagers who are addicted to drugs." Mr. Laithongrian said.
The elephant breeder estimated that the removed tusks are worth more than 60,000 baht in the ivory market, though they would have been worth at least 4 million baht if they were removed by experts.
Police say they are investigating the matter.
"The illicit removal of tusks and sale of ivory is an issue that many countries are opposing," said Pol.Maj.Gen. Sermkid Sitthichaiyakan. "It causes great damage to Thailand's reputation. We will find the perpetrators."
Calls for a ban on ivory trade
Although Thai laws criminalise the sale of ivory originating from foreign countries or wild elephants, trading ivory from domesticated elephants is legal with a proper permit.
Ivory-crafted items are considered luxury goods and used as decorations by social institutions such as the Royal Family and the Buddhist church. The decorative fan held by the Buddhist Patriarch, for instance, is made of ivory.
Animal rights organisations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have repeatedly called on Thailand to ban its domestic ivory trade, arguing that it is extremely difficult to distinguish domesticated ivory from wild ivory. Ivories smuggled in from African countries are routinely "white-washed" in Thailand and sold on the market.
According to WWF, Thailand’s ivory market is the largest unregulated ivory market in the world.
Thailand's recent governments have refused to heed the calls for a ban on the domestic ivory trade. In the latest international conference for the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), held in Thailand in 2013, then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refused to enact legislation that would ban the ivory business.