Of Electronic Elephants
One city's plan to pigeonhole pachyderms

How do you stop an elephant from charging? Taking away his credit cards is one idea, but another gaining credence in Thailand -- where the elephant population numbers some 3,000 and the animal is revered as a national symbol -- is to cram some integrated circuitry in its hide.

See also...
... by Jeff Morris
... in the Whoa! section
... from October 4, 1999

Picture it: You're taking a leisurely drive through downtown Bangkok, enjoying the scenery, with a sexy Thai babe by your side. The light turns green, you round the corner and the complacent smile on your face turns to utter horror... PACHYDERM! Asia Times reports that as many as 40 elephants have been seen in Bangkok, with as many as 200 in camps on the outskirts of the city.

They're slow moving and three times the size of a car. Slamming into the backend of an elephant will total a vehicle, leaving drivers with an angry, but uninjured pachyderm. And as everyone knows, an irritated elephant is nothing to be trifled with.

And it isn't just the animals themselves; there are also the droppings to worry about. Hitting a pile of pachyderm poop on a downtown Bangkok boulevard can leave drivers careening down the street on just two wheels, fighting to regain control of their vehicles. Think of it as a particularly putrid oil slick. And it gets worse. Aside from the traffic woes, elephant droppings create a foul stench, swarms of flies, and health hazards.

That's why Bangkok officials acted to stop elephants from illegally entering the city limits. How does an elephant illegally enter a city, you ask? Does an elephant need a travel permit? How can you tell if an elephant's been hiding in your refrigerator? Good questions all.

Elephants are used during the harvest. But since the season has been over since August, their mahouts (elephant drivers) are expected to keep them out of the city limits.

But the mahouts, under cover of night, sneak the elephants into the city's tourist areas, where the animals do tricks for money. Bangkok police were aware that the animals that never forget were illegally entering the city, but did not enforce the ban until a record number of complaints began pouring in. The loudest complaints came from motorists, who said the elephants slow traffic in downtown Bangkok to a snail's pace. Now, authorities are being forced to take extreme measures against the illicit animals.

Elephants caught inside the city limits are being implanted with microchips so Bangkok officials can track their movements. In the words of deputy Bangkok governor Thirachai Wutthitham, "We can no longer tolerate owners of elephants who exploit these poor animals and will take tough action against them."

The elephants of offending mahouts will be rounded up, implanted with the chip, and trucked out of the city to their home provinces. One can only hope that the new and improved high-tech elephant is Y2K compliant.


Jeff Morris is a professional journalist who subscribes to the highest ethical standards of reporting...and other magazines too.