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On Phuket, elephants have the power to add unforgettable memories

Phuket Elephants: Tourism Heavy Haulers

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
PHUKET: A Thai short story writer once put these words into the mouth of a fictional character at an imaginary Thai tourist destination: ""Ma says, 'Pussy and elephants, that's all these people want.'''

Ma would probably know. While the former's capacity to attract visitors to Phuket currently appears to be in dispute, nobody disagrees about the pulling power of the pachyderms on Phuket.

There was a recent sad death in the Phuket elephant family, but the other 188 have just passed a thorough health test with flying colors.

Further north in Phang Nga, though, environmentalists are concerned about the effect that hilltop elephant treks are having in polluting streams near their sources. On Phuket, the legitimacy of at least one trekking track is being called into question.

Are elephants popular with Phuket and Phang Nga tourists? Of course. Most people try a ride at least once, and young elephants are especially popular at resorts and restaurants, bringing smiles to faces.

Vet Dr Jirayu Niranwiroj of the Phuket Provincial Livestock Office is Phuket's elephant doctor. Sadly, he recently lost one big patient.

''It was a female aged between 40 and 50 years old, from a trekking centre in Rawai,'' he said today. ''We discovered she was sick - the owner thought she might be pregnant - but she lost about 20 litres of blood.

''We had to take emergency action, so she was trucked from Phuket to the specialist elephant centre at Nakkorn Prathom.

''About 20 doctors and nurses performed an emergency operation on her abdomen, but we lost her. We don't lose many on Phuket.''

Just last week, a group of elephant experts came to Phuket to review the health of all Phuket ''heffalumps.''

''All of them have microchips, and all are in good health,'' Dr Jirayu said. There is some concern, though, about at least one of the trekking tracks being used for the elephants.

At a meeting in Provincial Hall, Phuket City, last week officials were told that sorporkor title deed land - meant to be just for agriculture - is being used for an elephant-trekking business.

Even more concern is being expressed over an ATV track in Surin, where there's also a snake show. Locals asked for greater control over land above the 80-metre height limit that's supposed to be only for agriculture.

North of Phuket in Phang Nga, where many tourists go elephant-trekking through genuine jungle, Dr Wirut Treerasutud is in the process of identifying as many as 250 elephants. About 100 work in trekking, and the others are working animals in timber camps and rubber plantations.

There are 30 camps in Phang Nga and 19 on Phuket, including some in five-star resorts, with 31 elephants at the FantaSea camp in Kamala.

Environment specialist Saman Satae says that in Phang Nga, most of the trekking is done near the sources of creeks and rivers, and elephant waste is causing pollution in water downstream.

The problem adds considerable heft to the constant issue of tourism and its effect on nature. In a world where travel is increasingly popular, more and more people involuntarily subscribe to the motto: ''Been there, dung that.''


Comments have been disabled for this article.


""Ma says, 'Pussy and elephants, that's all these people want.'''


Posted by Nick on August 23, 2011 19:38

Editor Comment:

It's fiction, Nick. Don't get yourself all stirred up.


Great article, thanks for that. Awareness needs to be spread, especially to idiots like that fully grown man on a baby elephant's back. He's so lucky I wasn't there when he did that.

Elephants do not have strong back muscles, their strength is in their necks and that idiot up there is stressing the baby's soft bones. Not that he cares. Tourists are elephants' worst enemies.

Posted by Khun Tina on August 23, 2011 19:57


In fairness Khun Tina, the adult foreigner riding the baby elephant 'probably' doesn't know it could harm her. However, the mahout who will have been supervising the baby 'should' know. It's his job to know. Your ire should be directed at the mahout. Unless of course it's a wild baby elephant ruminating on a Phuket beach..............
My personal view is that elephant rides are incongruous with the 21st century. Far from trying to conserve the species, the elephant camps breed and breed them as a tourist attraction. I dislike animals being used this way. We should move on.

Posted by Mr Man on August 23, 2011 21:06


Elephants are gods gift to us, these animals yet huge have a heart of gold, one time look into an elephants eye each time i feel as seeing an old friend,who is not judgmental, yes elephants play an integral role in tourism and its just not money. They are a rare breed along with all creatures great or small. We don't know how lucky we are to have animals around us, is it not time that we start taking care of them before its too late?

Posted by Alex on August 23, 2011 21:55


Mr Man, the mahouts don't care, if they're making some money out of it. :(

Apart from the torment young elephants (usually the result of forced breeding - ie; rape by a bull in musth) endure in the Phajaan ceremony to tame them for riding/work -
they are deprived of their social group, proper food etc. Elephant riding is also very cruel to the elephants who are shackled on short chains unless there's a customer, wear their 100kg howdahs all day, are deprived of a proper or sufficient diet and exercise. Their backs break down after years of this treatment, which is why, when they can't work anymore, the females are force bred, often resulting in severe injuries and eventually broken spines. There is so much cruelty in using elephants for entertainment or work.

Posted by Khun Tina on August 24, 2011 08:47


Wow there is Jimminy Cricket on the elephants back. I thought he was only a Disney cartoon character? Learn something new every day. . . .

Posted by Graham on August 26, 2011 13:00

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