Washington, July 26 : The end of the logging trade in Thailand has put the future of the country's elephants and their trainers in peril.
Worries over the future of the elephants have emerged following an investigation by a University of Manchester team.
Logging trade had employed almost all Thai elephants in 1989, but a ban recently imposed on it has made 2,000 tuskers and their trainers unemployed overnight, forcing many onto the streets to beg for cash.
According to Professor Rosaleen Duffy from the University of Manchester's School of Social Sciences, though transferring to the tourism trade has improved working conditions for many elephants, their future remains under a cloud.
"Despite the move into tourism, we have found evidence that street walking persists in some areas and that can be traumatic for the animals and a nuisance for humans," she said. "And the almost total reliance on the tourist trade makes the Thai elephants especially vulnerable to a downturn in the market," she added.
"If that happens, more are forced onto the streets or into inappropriate activities in towns," said Duffy.
"The elephants are very important in Thai culture, and mahouts generally only beg on the streets with their elephants as an absolute last resort. It's a sad outcome for these once proud animals and their trainers," she added.
However, the picture is not all bad.
According to Professor Duffy and her colleague Dr Lorraine Moore, many of the elephant camps in Thailand treat their animals well.
The 2000 elephants employed in the Thai tourism industry currently may be used to add the declining elephant gene pool of 1000 wild elephants.
A scheme which trains captive elephants to survive in the wild is undertaken at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC).
TECC is also experimenting with alternative schemes to generate income from elephants including elephant dung paper and elephant dung fertiliser.
The Manchester team hopes to repeat their research in Botswana later in the year and aim to publish advice for tourist companies and guide books working in both countries. ccording to Professor Duffy, "We hope this project will provide the impetus for travel companies and travel guide authors to provide information to their clients and readers on how and where to report cruelty to elephants."