Sunday, January 20, 2008
Elephants Brake For Food
Of all the illegal activities that animate the streets of Bangkok — pirated DVDs and fake watches, brothels that call themselves saunas — roaming elephants stand out more than others. Elephants are not supposed to saunter down the city’s streets as they do almost every night. For at least two decades the giant gray beasts have plodded through this giant gray city, stopping off at red-light districts and tourist areas where their handlers peddle elephant snacks of sugar cane and bananas to passers-by. Occasionally the elephants knock off the side-view mirrors from cars or stumble into gutters and cut themselves on sharp objects. The police shrug, politicians periodically order crackdowns and animal lovers despair. The creation of a Stray Elephant Task Force in 2006 did not keep the elephants off city streets. Nor did the team of undercover elephant enforcers who periodically cruise through Bangkok on motorcycles scouting for the beasts The government says there are 3,837 domesticated elephants in Thailand today. Only a tiny fraction come into Bangkok — usually no more than half a dozen each evening — but they are hard to miss. Many Thais say they serve as a daily reminder of the inequalities in Thailand, the gap between provincial poverty and urban wealth.
Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent"