Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Five elephants shipped back to the Kingdom from Indonesia received a warm welcome late last night as they, along with their 12 mahouts, arrived at the Deep Sea Port aboard the Sinthu Phuket. The pachyderms made headlines recently when the cash-strapped Indonesian government said they no longer could afford to continue a joint elephant training program. In October 1997, Thailand sent the elephants and mahouts to Sumatra to help its Southeast Asian neighbor with elephant roundup and training efforts. The mission was expected to last ten years, but was cut short when Indonesian officials cited economic hardship. More than 100 residents, tourists, and officials greeted the elephants and mahouts at the Deep Sea Port shortly before midnight following their 30-hour journey from the Indonesian city of Medan. Some in the crowd fed fruit and grass to the jumbos – Uthen, Uni, Sakbai, Khuanmuang and Jit, while a group of residents unfurled a banner reading "Welcome Home!" Dr Boonriang Chuchaisangrat, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Health Office, reported that the 12 mahouts were all in good health. Officials of the Phuket Livestock Department were due to conduct checks of the elephants’ condition early this morning. Somphas Meephan, chairman of the Ayutthaya-based Koschaban Club, an elephant conservation organization which helped sponsor the return trip, told the Gazette that Indonesian politics had caused setbacks in efforts to improve conditions among the country’s elephant population, currently estimated at over 4,500. The elephants and their mahouts were scheduled to depart for a road journey to Surin province in northeast Thailand this afternoon.

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