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Saturday, January 2, 1999 Published at 11:16 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Thais to clone elephants

All white elephants property of Royal family

Scientists in Thailand have begun a project to clone an elephant from the preserved remains of a prize specimen that died more than a 100 years ago.

The Bangkok Post newspaper says a team from the city's Mahidol University wants to use genetic material from a white elephant owned by the 19th century monarch King Rama III.

BBC South East Asia Correspondent Simon Ingram: "Body parts preserved for more than a century"
Body parts from the elephant, said to have been of an extremely rare variety, have been preserved in alcohol for more than a century.

Elephants are the country's national symbol. White ones have lighter colored skin around their ears, eyes, trunks, and sometimes other parts of their bodies.

[ image: Elephants: Threatened by poachers]
Elephants: Threatened by poachers
Prized for their rarity and the belief they bring good luck, all white elephants in Thailand are automatically the property of the Royal family.

The scientists have already succeeded in cloning a cow. They [\who've already succeeded in cloning a cow\] say they have been inspired by American efforts to clone a mammoth.

The 10-year project will replenish Thailand's wild elephant population. It has dwindled from around 50,000 in the 1960s to just 2,000 in the wild today. Between 3,000 and 5,000 are domesticated animals

The main problem has been the shrinking area of the animals' natural habitat, which is now too small to support them in large numbers. Even in the country's main national park the herds are scattered and cross-breeding is virtually impossible.

The long-tusked bull elephants have also been targeted by poachers. Other elephants are force fed amphetamines and put to work in the illegal logging industry, then left to die when their bodies give out from overwork and drugs.

Increasingly, elephant handlers and their beasts are turning up on the streets of Bangkok, where they make a living begging from tourists while constituting an additional hazard to drivers plying the already crowded streets of the capital.

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Wildlife Fund Thailand

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