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A hand stretches out on Phuket to pat one of the cutest animals on the planet

Phuket Elephant Rampages: Time to Ban the Big Boys

Friday, February 25, 2011
News Analysis

ELEPHANT moments on Phuket can be touching or terror-filled. Most of us can only imagine the horror of being on the back of a rampaging elephant, at risk of being brushed off by low-hanging branches, or trampled underfoot with one or two stamps.

Yet big though they may be and potentially creatures with wild eyes bent on destruction, elephants are loved by virtually everyone.

I remember parking a car at Laguna Phuket one day and surprising a baby elephant. It trotted over and thrust its trunk in the open passenger's window, rummaging around, looking for food or fun.

Visitors have also spent hours in the sea at Phuket's Bang Tao at the right time of day, surfing with the Laguna elephants, jumping off their broad backs, delighting in the intimate contact.

A 63-year-old Swiss mother died in a rampage on a trek in a park north of Phuket this week, while her best friend and her husband, who survived, will probably relive the trauma over and over again.

Now readers tell us of two young elephants that are tethered for long periods on a patch of concrete as a come-on for a Phuket souvenir shop.

Is it fair to say that an elephant who is badly treated in infancy may bear a grudge that results in the death of an innocent person at some stage later in life?

It may never be possible to know for sure, but elephants are usually so calm and collected. Perhaps it's time, though, that males were no longer used on tourist treks.

The killing this week was the second rampage in the Phuket region in the space of 13 months.

While the first rampage last January by a male on Phuket did not bring any fatalities, the animal involved overturned cars and a Swedish man was seriously injured when he jumped for his life.

Having broken his heels, and with the rest of the party having fled to safety, he could only lie on the ground wondering what his fate was going to be.

The elephant, trumpeting loudly, rampaged madly on. Later, when the dust had settled, literally, Dr Jirayu Niranwiroj, a veterinarian from Phuket's Department of Livestock Development, told us: ''This kind of incident is rare, but mature male elephants can be a problem from time to time.

''There's usually one month every year, depending on the elephant, where male elephants will start to misbehave. It can start about the age of 12 and continue until they are 20 or so.

''Most of the elephants on the island, though, are never a problem.''

That's because the vast majority are female. Two of the three elephants on the killer trek through Khao Sak National Park yesterday were male.

In the Phuket incident just over a year earlier, it was only by chance that two men were riding Captain, the rampaging elephant.

It could just as easily have been children, Swede Hanna Agnarsson told Phuketwan at her husband Gustav's bedside in Phuket International Hospital, where he was bedridden with his broken heels.

The elephant that rampaged this week and killed the Swiss woman was Buki, aged 21. A local veterinarian, Piya Naktongkul, told Phuketwan that Buki and the other two elephants involved would be kept in separate compounds to calm down while their futures were considered.

With two incidents involving rampaging male elephants and tourists in the space of 13 months and the death of a Swiss woman, we'd suggest that tour companies would be wise to ban male elephants entirely from treks.

If the tour companies prove less sensible than they should be, tourists will in future make a judgement for themselves about whether they love elephants enough to risk riding on a male.
Phuket Tourist Police Quiz Elephant Rampage Survivors
Rampage Aftermath As Tourist Police seek the answers to a case where a rampaging elephant killed a Swiss tourist, survivors tell of a horrifying experience on and off the trek elephants' backs.
Phuket Tourist Police Quiz Elephant Rampage Survivors

Elephant Rampage North of Phuket: 'One Dead, Tourists Injured'
Breaking News Two male elephants fight over a female on a tourist trek through Khao Sok National Park north of Phuket, with one Swiss woman trampled to death and other tourists injured.
Elephant Rampage North of Phuket: 'One Dead, Tourists Injured'

Phuket Tourists Tell: Rampaging Elephant Horror
UPDATE A Swedish couple have given a first hand account of a ride on a rampaging elephant that casts doubts over the use of male elephants for tourist rides on Phuket.
Phuket Tourists Tell: Rampaging Elephant Horror

Phuket Elephant Rampage: Swedish Pair Injured
UPDATE A Swedish tourist broke both heels as he leapt from a rampaging elephant on Phuket. A second tourist suffered minor injuries. The unhappy animal upended a tree that fell and wrecked a parked car.
Phuket Elephant Rampage: Swedish Pair Injured

Chained Phuket Elephant Lucy Tugs at Emotions
Tourism's creatures An elephant named Lucy is tethered outside a souvenir market to attract tourists, but some say it's not appropriate and are saddened by her treatment.
Chained Phuket Elephant Lucy Tugs at Emotions

Comments

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If you looked today on the BBC website you would find 1 in 1.6million planes in 2010 (western world) had a crash.
Does this mean, ban all male pilots because of an incident?

You could say thousands of treks everyday happen across Thailand, and just because a tragedy happens, does this mean keep all animals locked up? What about their exercise?
Why keep an animal if its their to make money locked up? It will go literally mad.
I know this is a story trying to poke the ashes of the fire, but if anyone seriously thinks that banning Male Elephants is sensible, then they really do need a reality check.

Male Dogs more aggressive than females so we should keep them locked up. Male drivers of cars are in more accidents than females...the list of comparisons are endless.

Posted by Tbs on February 25, 2011 18:33

Editor Comment:

You are striking unrealistic comparisons. Plane crashes have nothing to do with what's going on in the heads of the pilots. Although we don't have the latest figures, female elephants already outnumber males by at least 10 to one on Phuket. This is because it's well-known that males are less reliable (ie, potentially deadly.) Authorities have failed to enact a law to support what the mahouts already understand. And yes, if it is a question of safety, of course discrimination is necessary. This is not a matter of maledom, but of roguedom. The male dogs and you are probably safe, as long as you behave. Although, as in the case of the elephants, it may be that neutering should be considered.

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Do any of you remember the baby elephant killing the Italian tourist 20+++ years ago in Phuket town. The thing that amazed me was how strong that baby was and how quickly it killed this strong 20 year old tourist. The elephant grabbed him around the waist slammed him to the ground in a heart beat and did little dance on the tourist. No one was sure what made the baby elephant go off, some people said the guy was clowning around, but the baby elephant killed that guy faster than you can read what I am writing. Ever since then I have been real careful around baby elephants a Japanese friend had one for a pet in Rawai years ago. It was very friendly and fun to be around and feed but we were all aware it was not to tease it was incredibly strong even though so tiny.

Posted by Capt Canada on February 25, 2011 19:51

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I think you should provide some facts of the Deaths per Male Elephant excursion per year - like the plane comparison.
Maybe you failed to comprehend the fact is, that the deaths from Elephants (male or not) is still minuscule - which is the point I am making.

The fact is thousands of Trek rides per year, fatalities, although as tragic as they are are still relatively small.

Posted by Tbs on February 25, 2011 21:01

Editor Comment:

Do you really imagine that elephant trekking companies keep statistics in the same way as the airline industry? Or that a global industry geared to safety can even be compared to elephant trekking?

Try making your case to the relatives of the dead woman or those who were seriously injured. Deaths on elephant treks would be nil, except for rampaging males.

If by a long stretch of the imagination elephant trekking was the airline industry, authorities would instantly remove the males, based on these mishaps, to improve user safety.

The airline industry is not happy to accept any deaths. Nor should you be.

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Condolences to all concerned. Elephants are wild animals and should be treated as such. Don't ride your dog just because they are big enough, animals are animals, respect them and treat them as wild.
Long live the animals that never forget.

Posted by GrahamM on February 26, 2011 04:33

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With regard to elephants, it's time for Thailand's government to try even harder to clean up the "mess" created after the logging ban. Start responsible tourism instead of these laughable elephant rides or trekking tours.

Posted by Anonymous on March 9, 2011 06:25


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