Police have launched a hunt for two teenage mahouts who were filmed attacking a baby elephant on a street in Ubon Ratchathani province.
Wildlife officials yesterday filed police complaints against the two mahouts.
The teenagers have yet to be identified but the wildlife officials supplied a video clip showing the attack as part of their police complaint.
The video clip has been circulating online since late last week and shows two young mahouts using hooks to attack a baby elephant after it collapsed from exhaustion because of a lack of food and water. They also pulled the elephant's tail and kicked it several times.
Niphon Chotiban, acting director-general of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, said on Monday that officials from Ubon Ratchathani conservation office had lodged a complaint against the teenagers for violating animal disease control regulations and maltreating an animal.
Police are also searching for the elephant's owner, he said.
The attack took place in front of a photocopy shop in Muang district, Mr Niphon said. The video clip was taken by Wisan Polkot, the shop owner.
Wichit Jiramongkolkarn, director of Ubon Ratchathani conservation office, said residents told officials that the baby elephant belonged to a man from Maha Sarakham province who brought three elephants to the area several months ago. Two other elephants, aged 15 and aged five, also appeared in the clip, Mr Wichit said.
The owner had hired up to five teenagers to take care of the animals and to walk them through the town at night so people could buy the elephants food, he said.
Officials on Monday searched a small wooded area in Ban Don Kae of Muang district where the elephant owner had set up a temporary camp for the elephants.
They found only a large amount of elephant dung. They believe the owner and the mahouts fled the area after the clip went viral.
Mr Niphon said his department would step up efforts to crack down on mahouts taking elephants through town centres and urged the public to call wildlife authorities on the 1362 hotline if they witness the maltreatment of animals.