Monday, June 05, 2006

Thai Government Under Fire For Zoo Trading: Change Of Habitat Harms The Welfare Of Elephants and Other Animals

Article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/australia/story/0,,1790478,00.html


John Aglionby, South-east Asia correspondent
Monday June 5, 2006
The Guardian

The first eight of 100 Thai elephants earmarked for export to Australian zoos are scheduled to leave tonight, despite fierce opposition from animal rights groups who have fought for more than a year to block the move.

They argue that the change of habitat harms the welfare of elephants and accuse the Thai government of shirking its duty to care for the country's national symbol by not taking responsibility for them.

Australia's government approved the transfer of five of the elephants to Sydney and three to Melbourne last July on the grounds that the animals would be used for breeding - despite claims that the move violates international conventions on animal trade.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Australian Humane Society filed a challenge to the decision, arguing the breeding programme was "quite fantastical", according to the Humane Society's Nicola Beynon.

An Australian judge backed the government in December provided that the zoos met certain conditions guaranteeing the elephants' welfare. Since then a special enclosure has been prepared to receive the animals. Taronga Zoo in Sydney has spent £16m on a home that includes hot and cold bathing areas, an exercise area, waterfalls and ponds and specially designed "sleeping mounds" for the pachyderms.

About 2,000 elephants remain in the wild and 2,600 in captivity in Thailand, according to Soraida Salwala, the founder of the Friends of the Asian Elephant. Forty years ago there were 40,000, she said.

Australia's environment minister, Ian Campbell, has been quoted as saying that in such circumstances "every attempt must be made to ensure the survival of the species, including through captive breeding programmes".

He said that the programmes would help ensure the survival of the species in the face of a shrinking natural habitat, and protect the elephants from conflicts with Thai farmers.

But Ms Soraida believes in a completely different approach to elephant conservation. "Why do we have to breed elephants? We don't have enough places for them. We should be looking after the ones we have already."

She accuses the Thai government of "turning a blind eye to the problem by getting rid of them".

"They say they have other things to do so don't have time to protect the elephants," she said. "But these are our national symbol. If they don't have time to protect the national symbol what hope is there for the country?"

No one from the Thai government was available to discuss the issue of the animals' protection yesterday.

In December the government stirred another controversy when it tried to import 175 animals, including elephants, from Kenya to Chiang Mai Zoo. The move was later blocked by a Kenyan court.

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