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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 19:01 GMT
'Tag Asian elephants' call
elephants in water
Asia's elephants are engulfed by a tide of human pressures
Asia's domesticated elephants should be registered and tagged with microchip implants if they are to survive, experts have said.

Last year over 50 calves were delivered to [Thai] tourist resorts... Tourists can't resist cute elephant babies

Thai vet
At an elephant conference in Bangkok on Monday, participants said registration could be done by injectable microchips or lip tattoos.

Domesticated elephants have long come under threat due to abusive treatment, disease, depleted forests habitats and illegal cross-border trade.

Asian elephant
Most Asian elephants now live near a road
"Without registration, it is very difficult to make a good job of law enforcement, veterinary care, population research, economic studies or any sort of management," UN Food and Agriculture Organisation consultant Richard Lair told the conference.

There are currently about 15,000 to 16,000 domesticated elephants in Asia - slightly less than half of the 37,000 wild elephants.

I would think about 90% of the elephants in Asia are within an hour's drive of an internet cafe

Richard Lair
The number of domesticated elephants - once widely used across Asia as beasts of burden or in temple or royal ceremonies - has dropped sharply in recent decades because of increasing industrialisation.

Thailand alone had about 100,000 domesticated elephants at the start of the century.

A ban on logging in 1989 led to a sharp decline in the demand for Thai elephants.


elephant baby
The babies often end up performing circus tricks
Mr Lair - who runs a major elephant conservation centre in Thailand - said a database of elephants could be established within three years.

"People assume that because it's Asia, the elephants are in the middle of the forest and that they'll have to deal with backward bureaucrats," he said.

"But I would think about 90% of the elephants in Asia are within an hour's drive of an internet cafe. Or at least near a road."

Smuggling of babies

Experts at the conference also said the smuggling of baby elephants out of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam needed to be addressed urgently.

Law enforcement on [elephant] poaching is very, very lax

Thai vet
Thailand was emerging as a hub for the trade, which was driven by demands for elephants in tourism and begging.

Many of the elephants were snatched from their mothers in the wild, Alongkorn Mahannop, a famous Thai veterinarian, said.

decorated elephants
Ceremonial Indian elephants at Jaipur
Often, that involved killing the mother first and possibly injuring other elephants who may try to help the calf.

"Law enforcement on poaching is very, very lax," she said.

The calves were later sold for anything between 85,000 to 200,000 Thai baht - about $2,000 to $4,650.

"Last year over 50 calves were delivered to tourist resorts [in Thailand]," Ms Alongkorn said. "Tourists can't resist cute elephant babies."

The calves are trained to perform circus tricks at resorts, and are then sometimes sold and used for begging on Thai streets.

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See also:

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Asian elephants 'cling to survival'
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Lives of neglect and misery
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India elephant rampage
07 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Landmine elephant's steps to recovery
06 May 99 | South Asia
Elephant dies of grief
30 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand's elephants sick and abandoned
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