- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

BANGKOK A massive standoff has developed between the homeless elephants that roamed Bangkok and the city government, which evicted the pachyderms from the Thai capital on Monday.
After being served the expulsion order, the elephants' keepers led their jumbo charges on a march around Bangkok. Then, they retreated to Ayuthaya, 60 miles north, where they discussed their elephants' future with the Forestry Department. They threatened to storm back into Bangkok if the government did not provide homes for them and their tuskers.
Thai police have armed themselves with tranquilizer guns and manned key Bangkok intersections to prevent the elephants from returning.
Between 40 and 70 elephants used to wander Bangkok's streets with their trainers. Though the presence of elephants in Bangkok is illegal, the city once tolerated the giant squatters, which are symbols of Thailand and popular with tourists. But recently Bangkok residents have grown weary of the jumbos in their midst. In the past month, several elephants have been in collisions with automobiles, and one large male went on a rampage through the city, tying up traffic for hours.
"I think many Bangkok people used to respect the elephants, but now they see them as problems, so the city is taking advantage of this mood," said Alongkorn Mahannop, a veterinarian and elephant specialist.
Elephants have a long history in Thailand, but only in the past decade have large numbers of elephants migrated to Bangkok. As mechanized agriculture replaced traditional Thai farming, many lost their jobs hauling rice.
Struggling to feed their charges and themselves, some trainers brought the beasts to Bangkok and led the elephants around tourist areas, where visitors paid to feed the animals. Many Bangkok elephants slept under abandoned bridges.
It is not clear what will happen to the evicted elephants. Forestry Department officials have suggested that the jumbos be used to patrol national parks and ferry foreigners around tourist sites. But elephant specialists believe the animals eventually will return to Bangkok.
"If the government does not find work for the elephant trainers, they will bring their animals back to Bangkok so they both can eat," said Dr. Alongkorn. "Bangkok is not the place for elephants … since the city gives them skin and foot disease, and causes many accidents. But if there are no jobs for their trainers, they'll be back."
Neither of the Forestry Department's suggestions would employ many elephant keepers.

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