Elephant handler takes case to court
A Surin-based elephant handler is preparing to go to court to prove his ownership of an elephant that was found in a Phuket safari, claiming the pachyderm is one he lost 14 years ago in Krabi.
Somsak Riang-ngern is in the province with his family to negotiate with the operator of the park to return "Phang Yo", a pregnant elephant kidnapped 14 years ago when it was left in the woods to give birth.
According to Mr Somsak, Phang Yo went missing in January 2003 when they were working at the Elephant Home in Krabi's Muang district. At that time, the Riang-ngern family brought seven elephants including Phang Yo to work at elephant camps in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi.
Mr Somsak said around the time Phang Yo was pregnant, he would tie her to a tree in the woods in case she gave birth. When he returned one morning, the elephant was missing. A complaint was lodged with the Muang district police in Krabi.
Saddened by the loss, the Riang-ngern family returned to their home province of Surin, but never gave up hope of finding the elephant.
It was not until last week when he received a tip-off about the missing elephant that he was sure Phang Yo was alive. His contact sent him a photo of an elephant and asked him to examine the animal's markings.
Certain that the elephant in the photo is theirs, the family came to Phuket to negotiate for the pachyderm's return. The elephant in the photo is said to be living in Amazing Bukit Safari in tambon Chalong, Phuket's Muang district.
When he arrived in Phuket, Mr Somsak lodged a complaint with local police and asked them to investigate.
According to Mr Somsak, the park operator has cooperated in terms of examining the elephant but insists it is not Phang Yo. It is a male elephant called "Nam Phet" which was bought for 1.4 million baht, the operator claims.
Mr Somsak said he has a certificate to prove his ownership of the elephant. Phang Yo was registered in July 2001 and subsequently implanted with a microchip by the National Elephant Health Service and Research Institute.
"There is little hope of getting it back. If we can't get it back today, we'll have a lawyer file a lawsuit," he said.
In Surin, elephant trainer Aekwarin Riang-ngern, Mr Somsak's son, said the park operator may not know the elephant has been microchipped.
He said the chip contains information that will help prove the family's ownership.
"We've raised these elephants and they are part of our family," he said.