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Bangkok's elephants beg for survival

Source:  Copyright 2004, San Francisco Chronicle
Date:  June 20, 2004
Byline:  Andrew Lam
Original URL: Status ONLINE

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 ...

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