Tuesday, 7 May 2013

White Elephant in the Forest

Tradition or conversation? That’s the question that’s been raised since the image of a white elephant was recorded a few days ago by cameras in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province in Thailand. 

White elephants are considered sacred in Thailand; they are said to bestow prosperity and good fortune. A white elephant featured on the national flag until 1917; and a white elephant is still the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy. All of Thailand’s 10 known white elephants - six males and four females - belong to the King, and are kept in captivity at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang. All of these animals were wild-born, as it is forbidden to breed white elephants. 

The Royal Thai Navy flag

A Royal White tusker, Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahnon (now deceased) 

Famous image of the King meeting the above ele

According to reports, there is a 6 million baht reward for anyone who captures the so-called white elephant (which is more like a light grey, with fair lashes and toenails) ... but elephant experts are arguing that this money would be better spent on preserving habitat and protecting the wild elephant herd. Surely this would be more auspicious and forward-thinking than bringing yet another wild-born animal into custodial care. 

But in the meantime, further evidence is required to prove that the elephant in question is indeed a white elephant. Salt licks have been created to lure the herd closer to cameras, while the heavy media presence in the park has been restricted to give the elephants space. 

My hope is that the powers-that-be use this opportunity to make a real impact on the welfare of Thailand’s precious wild elephant herds by spending the promised capture money on conservation instead.

One of Thailand's auspicious white elephants - or maybe just a normal elephant with makeup on...


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