NREC and local police simultaneously visited seven locations, most of them in the Chalong area. They were Sai Yuan Elephant Camp; Sea View Elephant Camp in Rawai; Kinnaree Elephant Trekking in Chalong; an elephant camp on the way to Big Buddha; an Elephant Camp in Kalim; the Eco Elephant Riding Camp in Cherng Talay; and the JW Marriott Resort in Mai Khao.
All seven animals seized were baby elephants – a big tourist draw because of their playfulness and cuteness.
Pol Maj Gen Norasak Hamenithi, who joined the raid on Kinnaree Elephant Trekking, said, “The livestock identification certificate is like an ID card for elephants.
“We have now issued a warrant for the arrest of Kamnan Surat Termsak, who is a headman in Chaiyaphum and president of the Elephant Association of Chaiyaphum.
“He [and others] asked the Muang District Chief in Chaiyaphum for certificates for 69 elephants that did not exist. According to the law, certificates cannot be issued for elephants until they are eight years old, but [Surat and his partners] said they needed the certificates because the animals were going to be moved elsewhere.”
A press release issued by the NREC also said that another arrest warrant had been issued for Prasong Bootchaipoom, though it did not say what his involvement in the case is.
“Some of these cases can be tracked back to wild female elephants killed in Kaeng Krajan National Park and their babies taken and sold, and then passed off as the babies of other, registered females,” added Gen Norasak.
He explained that the elephants, though “seized”, will remain where they are for now. The elephant camps will look after them, but will not be allowed to use them commercially.
In return, they will be paid by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) to look after the elephants.
“Manophat Huamuangkaew, Director-General of the DNP, has decided on this solution partly because of the cost of transporting the elephants to the Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang is between B80,000 and B100,000 per animal, and partly because there have been cases of elephants dying en route to Lampang.
“We will send officers to check regularly that the elephants are not being used to make money.”
He explained that the current owners are not regarded as being at fault. “They bought the animals legitimately, believing that documents issued by government officials were correct.
The owner of Kinnaree Elephant Trekking, Jaroong Taochan, confirmed this. He said, “I bought this elephant for B1.3 million. I thought that the documents were legal.”
Gen Norasak said, “I would like to warn elephant camp owners that they should be aware of the existence of fake certificates. They need to check carefully the origins of any elephant they are thinking of purchasing.
“We will first charge Surat with lying to officials and later we will also charge the officials who [corruptly] issued the paperwork.”
Apart from the seven elephants seized in Phuket, Wednesday’s operation also saw officers sequestering five more in Phang-Nga and two in Krabi.
Further raids are expected in other provinces – Surin, where six of the 69 illegal elephants are reported to be, Chaiyaphum (one animal), Chonburi (five), and Kanchanaburi (two).
The remaining 33 elephants from the 69 will be tracked down later.