Published: Sunday 15 December 1996

Once a symbol of the emperor, Thai elephants have been reduced to penury and beggary. Loss of habitat and livelihood has driven these elephants to the streets of Bangkok. The capital's crowded streets and the vehicular and noise pollution are taking a toll on the elephants, especially the younger ones. More than 50 elephants have migrated to the city where their mahouts let people walk under their bellies for good luck and collect a fee of us $1.60.

The sight of elephants begging on the streets has fuelled strong protests from middle-class Thais who still revere the creatures. The forests, once inhabited by these animals, have nearly disappeared. Earlier, they used to be employed in logging operations, which have been made illegal now. With their economic value almost lost, some hungry villagers have begun hunting for elephants. The number of wild elephants in Thailand has fallen from 30,000 to 2,000 in the past 30 years.

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