Bangkok -- It's not an uncommon sight in this city of 7.2 million to see an
elephant and its mahout, or trainer, come lumbering along, sometimes causing a
traffic jam. Elephants visit almost every major urban center in Thailand,
including the edges of sprawling Bangkok, begging for food.
The Asian elephant may still be a revered cultural icon in this country, gracing
bas-reliefs of temples and serving as the royal emblem of the monarchy, but
these days, it is woefully unemployed.
Worse, in a country whose civilization was more or less built on its back, the
elephant is fast disappearing. More than 100,000 existed at the beginning of
last century. At the beginning of the 21st, there were fewer than 5,000 -- 2,000
of them still in the wild.
Now classified as an endangered species, the Asian elephant is expected to
disappear from the country altogether -- except perhaps in zoos and a few nature
reserves -- around ...