AYUTTAYA – Poachers have killed and sawed the tusks off a 50-year-old elephant that performed in Thai royal processions and was featured in Oliver Stone’s 2004 movie “Alexander,” the manager of the conservation center where the animal was kept said Friday.
Laithongrian Meephan of the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal said the elephant was found dead Friday morning. Poachers had apparently poisoned it before cutting off its tusks.
The center breeds and trains elephants, and also serves as a retirement home for aging beasts.
Laithongrian said the elephant, named Klao, was used in some scenes of the film “Alexander,” which starred Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie. See Photo’s here
Investigators said it was believed local youths, probably drug addicts, had poisoned elephant patriarch Phlai Khlao and crudely sawn off his tusks without any regard for the proper value of the ivory.
One of the suspects was Naret Wangkalung, who was interrogated and denied any connection to the slaying and theft, Pol Maj Gen Sermkid Sitthichaiyakan, chief of Ayutthaya police, said.
The 32-year-old former mahout was earlier fired from the elephant camp where Phlai Khlao lived after problems with drug addiction.
Mr Naret told reporters and police that he is still addicted to drugs, but denied any knowledge of the fatal poisoning of the venerated bull elephant.
Investigators had earlier subscribed to a theory that professional ivory traffickers were behind the crime.
But the focus of the investigation was changed after Laithongrian Meephan, owner of the Elephant Kraal, said the killers might be local youths or drug addicts, because they did not saw the tusks off right at their base. He said they did not appear to know that beautiful tusks must include the base to be truly valued.
Thailand, which has a large legal domestic ivory market, is one of the countries targeted by wildlife activists as a centre of the illegal international elephant ivory trade.
The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said in a report earlier this month that “Thailand has the unenviable reputation as home to one of the world’s largest unregulated ivory markets.”
Elephants are the de facto national animal and were once featured on the Thai flag. TRAFFIC estimates that Thailand has a population of 2,500 to 3,200 Asian elephants in the wild, and cites government statistics that another 4,169 were held in captivity in 2012.
Their numbers have decreased over recent decades and expanding human settlements have shrunk their natural habitat. The beasts once were used overwhelmingly for logging, but deforestation and a consequent ban on most logging has led to many elephants now being used as tourist attractions.
TRAFFIC said one reason that Thailand is a major smuggling point for ivory poached from African elephants is that a 75-year-old law permits the legal trade of ivory from domesticated Asian elephants inside Thailand, though the origin of retail ivory is seldom checked.
“Monitoring of Bangkok’s domestic ivory market by TRAFFIC reveals a near trebling of the number of ivory items for sale in the past 18 months and a steep rise in the number of retail outlets selling ivory in Thailand’s capital city,” it said.
The group said that at least 20,000 African elephants were killed in 2013 to meet the heavy demand for ivory from Asia, and more than 13 tons of African elephant ivory have been seized inside, or headed to, Thailand since 2008.