Bangkok Post, September 1, 2001
After elephant rides raised concerns about coral damage in the seas off Phuket, an operator has expanded treks to a canal, where dung is raising environmental concerns.
Half-hour elephant rides are on offer in the 3km-long Wang Katha canal in tambon Chalong, Muang district. Customers are taken to monkey and elephant shows run on a 150-rai site by Tour Island Safari Co. Some 30 elephants wait for customers in the canal all day long.
Chokechai Sertprasit, the manager, said he was concerned about the environmental impact. "Our staff are always on alert to collect dung whenever it drops in the canal. I am talking with the Science Ministry about supplying dung for biogas production because there is a lot of dung," he said.
Steel grids had been put in to block dung from floating out to sea.
Mr Chokechai's business is popular with tourists. His firm has invested 100 million baht, and keeps 60 elephants in Phuket and Phangnga. It plans another branch in Krabi. The service draws 150 customers a day, and the number grows by 15% a year.
Locals have complained about the dung. Public health officials have tested water quality and warned the operator to minimise the impact. However, locals said the warning was barely heeded.
Anuparp Theerat, tourism authority director in Phuket, said elephant rides launched a decade ago were popular as 170 elephants had been registered. He said there were already enough elephants to serve tourists and the environmental impact was a concern. "The problem is obvious during the rains as water contaminated with dung flows to sea and increases bacteria beyond safe levels. Tourists will get itchy," he said. Limiting elephant numbers and strict rules about dung disposal were effective measures, he said.
Elephant rides have polluted the sea and damaged coral off Phuket as elephants take tourists through shallow waters to nearby Koh Hey, a diving haven. Elephants living in tambon Rawai have also scared school children. The tambon has asked the operator to move the shelter but that could take a year. Officially, there are 170 elephants here. Actually, more than 200 elephants are used in the business and more are being smuggled in.