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Thai elephants finally packing up their trunks

ELEPHANTS idling outside discos or lumbering through traffic have been part of Bangkok's colorful nightlife for nearly two decades. Now authorities want to send them back to the jungle.

Thai officials say they have come up with an innovative solution -- offering the pachyderms for adoption.

Several groups have already paid the estimated 500,000 baht (US$14,664) to buy an elephant and relocate it to a reserve in the countryside.

Half of the city's 200 elephants have been relocated since the program began in March, and Bangkok Governor Sukhumphan Boriphat vowed at a glitzy press conference yesterday that the rest would be out within a year.

"Roaming elephants can cause accidents, especially at night, and even more importantly are harmful to themselves," Sukhumphan said at a ceremony that featured a marching band, a Thai film actress and several heavyset women who were recent participants in a Miss Jumbo beauty contest.

"It's important that we get elephants out of Bangkok as quickly as possible," the governor said.

Elephants first arrived in Bangkok in the late 1980s after a logging ban made them redundant in forestry work. Since then, they have been trafficked into the city from rural Thailand and even neighboring Myanmar by gangs.

The elephants' handlers persuade tourists to buy the animals sugar cane and other snacks or use the elephants to promote the sale of ivory trinkets.

Many of the animals get hurt when they collide with cars or step into drains or potholes.

The city has tried repeatedly to evict the animals -- at one point bringing in trucks to cart them away -- only to have the plans undermined by lax enforcement.

This time, the campaign includes putting microchips in the elephants so officials can track their whereabouts, and trying to convince foundations to buy and relocate them.

Once in their new homes, the elephants will be trained to search the forest for their food.

Elephant owners can use the money to get into a new business, and those who refuse will be fined, city officials said.


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