Elephants are used to entertain foreign and domestic tourists at trekking camps all over Thailand. As visitors prefer younger animals, the value of elephant calves has soared to around $33,000 for a healthy specimen.
To meet this demand, smugglers in Myanmar capture and tame wild elephants from the country's shrinking herds. The young elephants are caught in pit-traps, cruelly beaten to break their spirits and then smuggled across the border. The Thai authorities have cracked down on this trade with some success over the past two years, but campaigners believe that criminals are now stocking up, ready to transport the animals once again, when restrictions end.
Traffic and other campaigners want to see a toughening up of the laws in Thailand. Elephants don't have to be registered there until they are eight years old, creating an opportunity for smuggled calves to be 'laundered' into the domestic population.
Asian elephants already face threats from habitat loss, agriculture and ivory poachers. According to researchers, the extra strain put on by the smuggling of live young elephants could threaten the long-term survival of the species in Myanmar.
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quickly increased by a large amount
train to be calm near humans; train not to be wild
(here) to weaken and control them
started dealing with bad or illegal behaviour in a stricter way
increase in strictness (here, of the laws)
(here) moved around illegally in a way which appears to be legal
reduction in the size of the area of natural environment (where the elephants live)