Mahouts fight against elephant ownership bill
Many say draft will not solve problem at the root; demand removal of minister
Hundreds of mahouts gathered with their elephants yesterday at Ayutthaya's elephant corral and called on the government not to approve the draft Wild Animals Preservation and Protection Bill, which would transfer the ownership of domesticated elephants to a state agency supervising wildlife protection.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister General Pracha Promnog is expected to visit Ayutthaya today to collect their complaints. The mahouts have said that if Pracha failed to show up, they would bring their elephants to the capital to rally outside Government House.
A public forum is being held on the draft bill, which will be considered by Parliament later. The mahouts also called on the government to remove Natural Resources and Environment Vice Minister Damrong Phidet - former chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department - from his current position after he told the press that he would push for the draft bill to be taken to Parliament.
Netiwin Amornshing, a 36-year-old mahout from Surin, said the bill was unfair.
"The bill will not resolve the problems," he said.
The bill proposed by the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department aims to prevent the poaching and illegal trade of elephants. However, some proposed measures would allow officials to confiscate elephants if they find that identification certificates do not match the animals' physical characteristics.
Over the past few years many wild elephants in Thailand have been poached and domesticated, with some mahouts forging identification certificates. But instead of a bill to transfer ownership of domesticated elephants to a state agency, Netiwin said the government should plug that loophole by handing responsibility for issuing identification certificates to the Interior Ministry.
"The government should increase penalties instead of passing a new law to control everything," he said, adding that if the government did not respond to their demands, thousands of mahouts nationwide would take their elephants to protest outside city halls.
Netiwin also said that if the government wanted to resolve the problem of mahouts taking their elephants into cities and built-up areas, it should set up an elephant fund.
Meanwhile, Damrong said he was not directly involved in the effort to push through the draft Wild Animals Preservation and Protection Bill.
"I think this bill is a positive step to protect wild elephants, so I am merely supporting it," he said, adding that he was prepared to resign from his ministerial position if necessary. "It's fine if they want me to go."