Thai elephants land safely in Australia
Sydney, Australia - Eight Thai elephants whose transfer to Australia was initially blocked by animal rights activists have completed the first leg of their controversial journey and are settling in for three months of quarantine in the Cocos Islands, officials said on Tuesday.
A last-minute bungle on Sunday meant the group was split up because the Russian transport plane flying them to the Indian Ocean territory was smaller than ordered.
Four of the elephants flying out of Utapao airport in Chon Buri province arrived on the Cocos Island on Sunday morning. The remaining four touched down on Monday.
The elephants are scheduled to go to Melbourne Zoo and Sydney's Taronga Zoo after they pass quarantine.
A spokesman for Taronga Zoo told Associated Press that the trip had gone smoothly and the animals, accompanied by keepers, veterinarians and traditional Thai mahouts, were getting used to their new surroundings.
Thai protesters had physically blocked the elephants' exit from a Thai quarantine station in Kanchanaburi in June. They said the pachyderms should not be exported to Australia because it is possible that they were born in the wild, and would therefore be banned from trading under international agreement.
The renewed transfer was successful on Sunday night after the elephants were transported secretly during night time. Police and soldiers set up checkpoints to block the protesters.
Thai and Australian authorities assert the elephants were born in captivity and collected from various owners around Thailand.
Protests by activists in both Thailand and Australia had delayed the transfer for more than 1 1/2 years.
In December, an Australian court cleared the way for the move as long as the Australian zoos met certain conditions guaranteeing the elephants' welfare.
Associated Press and the Nation