Accusations fly over poor health of seized elephants
Published: 28/03/2012 at 02:16 AMNewspaper section: News

Blame for the death of one elephant and the poor health of 15 others confiscated from an elephant park is being passed between the park operators and state officials.

Operators of the Saiyok Elephant Park in Kanchanaburi's Sai Yok district insist the animals were healthy when they were seized by authorities, while state vet Sittidet Mahasawangkul says they fell ill at the park.

The elephants were seized on Feb 29 by National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department officials, who suspected the animals had been obtained illegally.

One of the elephants, a female called Sri Thong, died on March 20 and health checks on the other 18 conducted by Department of Livestock officials found 15 of them to be in poor health.

Mr Sittidet, chief of the state-run Elephant Hospital at the National Elephant Institute (NEI) in Lampang, said eight of them have tuberculosis, while the others had blood infections and other ailments.

"I want to make it clear to the public that those elephants developed their diseases when they lived in the [Sai Yok] elephant park," Mr Sittidet said.

"We are doing our best to save their lives but I am afraid that more might die as three are in critical condition with tetanus, digestion problems and respiratory disease, respectively."

But Duanpen Sandee from the Sai Yok Elephant Park insisted the confiscated elephants were healthy when they were taken. Any illnesses they now have must have been picked up since their confiscation, she said.

She also alleged the elephants were being kept in poor conditions and were badly treated by state officials.

Ms Sandee also cast doubt on the authenticity of post-mortem tissue samples collected from Sri Thong, as she has not received official notification of the elephant's death from authorities.

The state vet team determined Sri Thong had died from a tetanus infection.

The vet team called the media to the Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) headquarters in Bangkok yesterday to refute Ms Duanpen's allegations. The FIO said the elephants were being well cared for by vets and mahouts and were being housed in a disease surveillance area.

NEI director Worrawit Rothjanaphaithoon said the elephants might have contracted TB from tourists visiting the Lampang facility, although he conceded this was unlikely as they only spend a short time in communicable distance from visitors. Vets and mahouts at the NEI undergo twice-yearly health checks, including for TB.

Taweepoke Angkawanish, a vet at the Elephant Hospital, said many elephant parks are failing to take sufficient care of their animals. He said many elephants live in crowded conditions and juvenile elephants are often forced to perform in shows when they should be spending time with their mothers.