Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Longstreath

July 12, 2010–According to The Washington Post, “Bangkok authorities said Monday anyone caught handing bunches of bananas or sugar cane to the hulking beasts – proffered by their handlers to make money – faces a $320 (10,000 baht) fine.”

The AP article also reported:

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 out for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.

“The ordinance is issued to prevent untidiness or danger toward properties and lives of Bangkok residents,” said Manit Techa-apichoke, deputy director of the City Law Enforcement Department, adding there had been cases of elephants hurting people and falling into drains.

Friends of the Asian Elephant, a Thai non-government group which cares for injured or mistreated elephants, called the fines a good start.

“I’ve been asking for them to do this for 15 years,” said its founder, Soraida Salwala, adding that she hoped other Thai cities would follow suit. “It’s not the total solution, but it’s a help.”

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.

Begging street elephants are a huge problem in Thailand and other cities throughout Southeast Asia and India.  Not only do they cause a distraction and get caught in traffic accidents with humans, but city-life is horrendous for these emotional, intelligent, sensitive beings who communicate through seismic vibrations that they feel through their feet, in addition to trumpeting with their vocal cords.

Let us not forget that anyone who feeds an Asian Elephant is actually contributing to the problem of wild-capturing an endangered species (usually while they are babies, because baby elephants earn more on the street), breaking their spirits in order to “domesticate” them, and then selling them into a life of hardship, trauma, abuse and neglect, where they will be passed or sold from owner to owner for the rest of their lives.

Fining the people who feed elephants is a baby step in the right direction to protect Asian Elephants in the long-run. Once there is less demand for feeding street elephants, the owners will have to make a different choices–perhaps looking to sell their elephants to sanctuaries or even asking the Thai government to expand the The Pang-La Nursery Home for Aged Elephant, which it announced in 21 November 2009 but has so far not enforced.

You can read the rest of the Washington Post article here. As we learn more, I will share it here.  Cheers!

-Windy Borman

Director & Producer, The Eyes of Thailand