Friday, March 23, 2012

Observation and Questions - a Day at TECC

A day at TECC is usually very pleasant. I did get a chance to visit with Pangpornsawan for a few moments.  She is doing very well and the TECC staff still fret when I want to get close enough to touch her. Hey, they are just doing their job.
Pangpornsawan 22 March 2012
Other than the quick visit with Pang, yesterday was taxing to say the least. There are more questions and fewer answers.  I will preference this by sharing with you that I have made a commitment to do more research before I write anything that could be called definitive, anything with any sort of a conclusion.  I do not know enough about TECC and to that end I have been granted an interview with Richard Lair who has been involved with Thai elephants for some 27 years.  He is affiliated with the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.   I have also made a commitment to personally visit Saiyok Elephant Park in Kanchanaburi.  It was from them that 19 elephants were confiscated. They also own the two baby elephants that were confiscated from Phuket.

In the morning I met Khun Chaiyapong Sandee and his family. The original intent of the trip to to TECC was to visit their elephants and see how are they doing since they were moved here.  However, they had learned through unofficial channels that one of their elephants had died. They were at TECC to learn the circumstances surrounding the death of one of their elephants, to visit the surviving elephants and work on having their elephants returned.

When he got to TECC office, he was officially informed about the death of his elephant. Sri Thong was a very healthy about 17 year old female who died at approximately 5:00 a.m. on March 20th.  According to one of the attorneys who spoke with a doctor at TECC, She passed at 5:00 a.m., an autopsy was performed at 5:00 p.m. Tissue samples were sent to a university in Chiang Mai; results are expected in a week.  I also learned she was buried that same day.  According to an article posted on at about 3:00 a.m. today TECC had reported the death to the local police.  No details of the death were included in the article.  However, it did say that if it’s determined that the elephant was illegal, the government will have no requirement to compensate for her loss.  A family member told me that they have never received any official notification of Sri Thong’s death; that they learned of it through word of mouth.  The family had a meeting with TECC officials, were provided with some information but seemed to leave with a lot of unanswered questions.  One thing they are requesting if a copy of the video of the autopsy. I am told that request is still pending. Needless to say there are more unanswered questions surrounding this poor elephant and her demise.

I went with Khun Chaiyaphong Sandee and his family to visit the other elephants.  There is a mother and a calf about 1 year old who seem to be in pretty good shape. At least they are together.  The two babies who were confiscated from Phuket are about 2 years old. They are in a pen together, both on short chains.  10 elephants are under a long shelter, 3 under a separate shelter and the remaining 3 were in a nearby forest.  My Thai is not that good, but as I understand it there is a lot of concern about these elephants not having enough food, enough water, exercise or shelter.  What I observed was that the 13 in shelters did not have food or water near them.  Clearly the elephants and the people were stressed.  The weather was hot and emotions ran high. Khun Chaiyaphong is very worried about the rest of his elephants, worried that they could be become ill or die if they have to remain at TECC. He is working to have the rest of his elephants returned.
Not Enough

Three under a makeshift shelter, no water, no food!

Babies in Chains
I spoke at some length with two of the family members, whose English is excellent.  They claim that each of the confiscated elephants had valid papers, but in each case there were discrepancies in the descriptions.  According to them, 2 DNP staff visited their camp on January 24th to collect information, then on the 25th, The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief, Khun Damrong Pidej, led a raid of some 200 armed men, demanding to immediately see all the certificates.  Quickly copies were made and surrendered to DNP. The camp had, at that time, 51 elephants but handed over papers on 58 elephants.  DNP wanted to know why there were 7 extra papers. Saiyok Elephant park staff insisted it was an oversight caused by the pressure to immediately produce.  They had included copies of documents about elephants that were no longer there.

DNP left with instructions to have the description sections of the certificates updated at the local office.  However, when they went to the government office they were told that no adjustments to the certificates could be made while they were under investigation.  On 29 February, 19 elephants were confiscated from Saiyok and transported to TECC.

I asked if DNP uses the microchip information.  No!  It turns out that the microchip information is maintained by Department of Livestock Development and apparently there is no coordination between the two departments.  Saiyok elephant staff said, all of their adult elephants has been micro chipped; most of them 10 to 15 years ago. All information about elephants including sex, age, place elephants were micro chipped, previous owner’s name and address have been recorded as a database at Bureau of Disease Control and Veterinary Service, Surin province.  If I understand this correctly wild elephants come under the jurisdiction of Department of National Parks and domestic elephants under the jurisdiction of Department of Livestock.

As I said at the beginning Gentle Reader, there are far more questions than answers.

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