PHUKET: Smugglers attempting to transport three elephants onto Phuket illegally were nabbed by livestock officials at 3am today.
Phuket Livestock Director Werasit Puphipairoj told Phuketwan today that he was aghast to find the elephant smugglers were carrying fake documents in his name.
Nine people on two six-wheel trucks were apprehended, together with female adult elephants Kamsan, 26, Kanoon, 13, and a two-year-old male juvenile, Noppakao.
Khun Werasit and his team spent three nights awaiting the smugglers in a vigil.
''I am surprised that Tachatchai police at the bridge crossing onto Phuket failed to stop the elephants,'' Khun Werasit said.
He and his team of 10 nabbed the trucks and their valuable load as they rode down Thepkasattri Road, Phuket's main north-south artery.
The previous two nights, they had staked out the road closer to the Tachatchai checkpoint.
Khun Werasit said that Phuket had 224 legal elephants and was behind only Surin and Chiang Mai, the province with the third largest number.
''Phuket has enough elephants,'' he said. ''If camps need more, they should do deals among themselves to rent or exchange them.''
Numbers have increased recently with the opening of the Siam Nirimit show and additions at Phuket Zoo and FantaSea.
The man who led the smugglers, Sangd Kadpai, 40, told Khun Werasit that he was being paid 15,000 baht to transport the elephants from Surin to Phuket.
The official documentation only permitted the elephants to be taken as far as Phang Nga, Khun Werasit said.
The elephants will be kept at a camp on Phuket's Big Buddha Hill for 10 days while their health and documents are checked.
The smugglers, being questioned at Thalang Police Station today, are likely to face charges of breaking the law by transporting elephants without permission, and of forging Khun Werasit's signature.