Image: Elephant in Bangkok
Mahout Supoj Salangam waits for customers in a popular bar area in Bangkok in 1999. Bangkok officials in an attempt to keep elephants off the streets say they will impose a $310 fine on anyone caught handing out bunches of bananas or greenery to the animals.
updated 7/12/2010 1:28:09 PM ET 2010-07-12T17:28:09

You can still feed elephants in Thailand's bustling capital — but it could cost you.

Bangkok authorities said Monday anyone caught handing bunches of bananas or sugar cane to the hulking beasts — proffered by their handlers to make money — faces a $320 (10,000 baht) fine.

Thailand has about 2,400 domestic elephants. There is little demand these days for the animals' traditional skills in logging and other labor, so owners sometimes loan them out for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.

"The ordinance is issued to prevent untidiness or danger toward properties and lives of Bangkok residents," said Manit Techa-apichoke, deputy director of the City Law Enforcement Department, adding there had been cases of elephants hurting people and falling into drains.

Friends of the Asian Elephant, a Thai nongovernment group which cares for injured or mistreated elephants, called the fines a good start.

"I've been asking for them to do this for 15 years," said its founder, Soraida Salwalla, adding that she hoped other Thai cities would follow suit. "It's not the total solution, but it's a help."

Previously, mahouts — as elephant handlers are known — and their accomplices were fined for bringing an elephant into Bangkok, but those feeding the animal escaped punishment. Typically a tourist would pay 20 baht ($0.62) for the privilege of handing a bunch of fruit or vegetables into the elephant's trunk.

Manit said those caught feeding the animals would be fined, though they may get slapped with a warning first.

He said authorities had caught 30 elephants in Bangkok the past four months, but none since the new ordinance came into effect on July 1, although handlers were finding ways to circumvent the crackdown.

"Mahouts have adopted a new tactic of using baby elephants and taking them from place to place on a pickup truck," he said. "They now work in the suburbs, instead of camping right in the heart of the city as they used to."

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