Two elephants join Phuket migrant labor force

Phuket elephants
The two elephants already at Siam Niramit Phuket, pictured here, will soon have two new friends. Photo: Phuket Gazette file 
PHUKET: Two young elephants were approved to work in Phuket this week, bringing the total number of registered pachyderms on the island to 190, which is 14 more than the existing limit set by the Provincial Office in 2003.
The increase in the number of elephants beyond the set limit was noted during the meeting by Phuket Provincial Livestock Chief Weerasit Phutthipairote.
However, Phuket Vice Governor Somkiet Sangkaosuttirak appeared unworried.
“Since any elephant brought onto the island has to be approved by our committee first, I think things will be okay,” V/Gov Somkiet said.
“The examination [of the elephant identification papers and future living conditions] will continue to be strict,” he added.
The two new female elephants, Pooklook, 5, and Thida,10, will be performing at the Siam Niramit theater along with two other elephants already owned by the company.
The committee approved the elephants based on a review of their identification papers, which confirmed they were born in captivity and not taken from the wild. The committee also took into account several other factors about the elephants’ future living conditions.
However, the committee plans to re-examine the elephants’ identification documents on arrival in Phuket, as allegations of fraudulent identification documents has been rife in recent years.
Pooklook and Thida are currently at Dream World amusement park in Bangkok, owned by the same parent company.
They will be transferred to Phuket as soon as the Livestock Office has approved all the necessary documents, explained Santi Paengnukroh of Siam Niramit.
Wildlife activist Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), expressed concern that local officials showed so little concern for breaching regulations established by their own offices.
"It's a typical issue of the moment. Any issues involving animals seem to be of no concern to government officials," he said.
"I don't remember exactly why they came to this 176 elephant limit, but I think it was because there was too much competition going on at the time and the animal welfare standards were pretty bad for the elephants as a result. If that's the rule, they should live up to the rule or change the rule. They are just stepping over their rules on the spur of the moment, always coming up with an excuse."
The Dutchman said he was unaware of any legal cases brought against parties who had elephants seized in during inspections on the island in January or February this year.
"All of the cases were settled, which is outrageous…I can only say from an animal welfare point of view that if these animals surpass 190 in number, how can officials ensure that their living standards will be okay?" he asked.
As for the documentation process, he said it was almost impossible to tell with certainty from identification papers if baby elephants were actually born in captivity or captured in the wild because the process does not involve DNA information.
Asked about the effectiveness of microchips, he said:
"Microchips can easily be taken out, either when the elephant is dead or when you don't want it anymore. It's just that simple. It's like a license plate on a car. You can just take the screws out and put it on another car. If you don't have the chassis number, you can drive a stolen car forever. So the chassis number is the DNA of the elephant, and the microchip is the license plate," he said.
His own efforts to establish a more watertight system of ID cards, as is already in place in many countries, have so far found little resonance with Thai officialdom, he said.
However he expects such a system to be introduced by the government itself in a few years time, probably before the next CITES conference to be hosted in Thailand in 2013. Mr Wiek said he plans to meet soon with Democrat Party officials interested in animal welfare laws.
"We'll see how that goes," he said.
In the shorter term, he is preparing to defend himself in a Petchburi Court against charges of "assisting in crime" brought against him by the Department of National Parks.
The case followed a complaint by DNP Director-General Damrong Phidet, who said that he should be charged with "assisting in a crime" following a highly-publicized raid of the WFFT sanctuary in Phetchburi.
Mr Wiek views the raid and subsequent charges against him as a vendetta for an expose about the trade in baby elephants that led to the inspections early this year.
He said the charges were outrageous because he currently is not a member of the WFFT board, of which his Thai wife is chairperson.
He added that his own wife is so fed up with the DNP-WFFT dispute that she has asked for a two-week vacation to the Netherlands "just to get away from Thailand for awhile". 


Franklin Zoo to close doors permanently after death

Mila the African Elephant at Franklin Zoo.
Photo / File

Mila the African Elephant at Franklin Zoo. Photo / File

The zoo where keeper Dr Helen Schofield was crushed to death by an elephant will close its doors.

In a statement yesterday, Franklin Zoo near Auckland announced the it would shut permanently following the death of "the heart and soul" of the zoo.

Dr Scholfield's roles at the zoo included vet, zoo operator and director, and elephant programme manager.

She was "irreplaceable", which had led to the decision, said the statement.

"Franklin Zoo's dedicated staff are all deeply saddened by this decision, but understand that Mila and all of our animals deserve to live lives that are as full and enriching as possible. We are grateful that they will continue to work with us, to achieve this."

Former circus elephant Mila crushed Dr Schofield to death in her enclosure in April.

She had planned to send the elephant to a Californian rehabilitation centre for former circus and zoo animals called Performance Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, where she could live out the rest of her days with other elephants.

"We will not give up on Helen's dream, and we believe that the best way to honour this is to focus resources into our goal of working towards Mila's relocation to a facility overseas so that we can try to secure her future," said the statement.

Trustees were working to find homes for the animals, and staff were preparing Mila for her relocation overseas.

To donate to the Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust, go to


Illegal-Ivory Bust Shows Growing U.S. Appetite for Elephant Tusks

By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai

The next time you browse cute little ivory objects in a jewelry shop, remember that they could be made from the tusks of elephants illegally killed by poachers and smuggled into the United States. Their death could have far-reaching consequences, perhaps even affecting the climate.

At a July 12 press conference in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced the seizure of more than $2 million worth of illicit ivory items, one of the largest such seizures in state history. The ivory was mostly used to make small jewelry, animal statues and carved tusks, which were being sold at two shops in Manhattan.

On a table at the press conference, a few objects were on display. Though they represented only a small fraction of almost one ton of ivory obtained in the case, 25 elephants were killed to produce them, estimated John Robinson, executive Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who was present at the event

According to Samuel Wasser, director for the Center of Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, ivory poaching is a problem that keeps getting worse. It’s estimated that 2011 was the worst year in elephant poaching since 1989, and Wasser warned that the death of elephants can have large and unpredictable consequences.


Wasser said elephants play an extremely important role in African ecologies. “By taking them out of the habitat, the habitat can be changed in a manner that can never be remedied,” he said.

For example, explained Wasser, elephants disperse tree seeds throughout Central Africa’s Congo rain forest, Earth’s second-largest forest. Like the Amazon, the Congo forest can be considered a vast, planetary lung, and elephants help keep it healthy.

The ongoing demise of elephants is “changing the forest structure throughout central Africa. In 50 years, it’s quite possible that it will change so dramatically that the climate throughout Africa, and perhaps the world, will be changed.”

The objects were being sold by two Midtown Manhattan shops, the New York Jewelry Mart and Raja Jewels. The owners, Johnson Jung-Chien Lu and Mukesh Gupta, both plead guilty to environmental crimes. They will forfeit all the ivory as well and pay fines of, respectively, $10,000 and $45,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Wasser, who works with national and international law enforcement agencies like Interpol to assess the origin of seized ivory, said the type of objects found in this case was particularly surprising. “I haven’t seen a seizure of this size coming to the U.S. that involves such tiny pieces,” he said.

Illicit ivory sold in the U.S. is typically used to make handles for guns or knives, said Wasser. He sees the seizure as a warning that a market for small objects exists in the U.S., and not just its usual destinations of Japan and China.

According to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, more than 24 tons of ivory was seized across the world in 2011.

Today’s case “really is incredibly significant” in terms of U.S. trade, said Crawford Allan, regional director of TRAFFIC North America. Allan sees the seizure as a sign that the U.S. is becoming a bigger player in the illegal ivory markets.

Both Allan and Wasser, as well as International Elephant Society executive directory Deb Olson, praised today’s seizure. They all warned, however, that it’s just a small step towards solving a big problem.

If elephants keep dying, “the impacts on the ecology are something that is going to be very, very difficult – if not impossible – to remedy,” Wasser said.

Images: Jewelry and trinkets made from poached elephant ivory and displayed at the press conference announcing the seizure of $2 million of illegal ivory. (//">Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai/

Kenya: Poachers Kill an Elephant in Tsavo

KENYA Wildlife Service security officers have launched a manhunt for suspected poachers who killed an elephant and removed its tusks at Tsavo West National Park. The elephant was shot with a poisoned arrow before the suspects removed its two tusks and fled.

KWS assistant director in charge of the Tsavo conservation area, Wilson Korir said the incident happened at Mangelete area in the Northern part of Tsavo West National Park. "We have lost one elephant in the latest poaching incident in Tsavo where the poachers removed the two tusks after killing the jumbo," he said.

Korir said they are tracking the suspects and will soon catch up with them. "We have crucial leads on the suspects and we hope to arrest them very soon. We have deployed our rangers on the ground and they are conducting a manhunt for the suspects," he said.

On Thursday, information went round in social media that an old elephant had been killed at Mbulia conservancy and two tusks removed. It was alleged that the tusks weighed 58 and 61 kilogrammes respectively.

However, KWS has denied the information and termed it a rumour. "I have got the information through the social media but we have not received any official information of such an incident," Korir said.

He said another elephant that had been attacked by poachers at Kasighau area has been treated. "The elephant had been attacked by poachers using an arrow but our veterinary team managed to save its life," he said.

He blamed countries in the Middle East for the increasing poaching activities in Africa. "The African elephants are in danger since ivory is being used as a commodity of trade in Eastern countries," he said.

Korir said there is need for the new Wildlife Bill to be passed as soon as possible to save endangered wildlife species. "Lenient penalties meted out to those who commit wildlife crimes are jeopardising the fight against poaching. We hope the new Wildlife Bill that proposes harsh penalties will be fast-tracked," he said.

He said KWS has put in place proper measures to address elephant poaching and called on communities living near wildlife conservancies to work in collaboration with KWS to end wildlife crimes.




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