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Registration and law

Many laws apply to owners of domesticated elephants but undoubtedly the most important one is the Draught Animal Act of 1939 [phrarachbanyat sat pahana, B.E. 2482], that empowers officials of the Registration Offices of the Local Administration Department (Ministry of Interior) with jurisdiction over elephants. (Unless otherwise mentioned, all of the obligations of elephant owners mentioned below are from this law.) In addition to the Draught Animal Act itself, various ministerial regulations [kot grasuang] issued by the Ministry also affect owners.

The Draft Animal Act is an outdated law written over 60 years ago and modified only slightly since promulgation. Its purpose at the time was to, through identifying individual elephants and their owners, establish the rights and obligations of ownership, largely to control thefts, as is shown by the fact that elephants are lumped together with cattle, water buffalo, horses, donkeys, and mules. In 1939 there were tens of thousands of domesticated elephants and they were clearly seen as private property, as they still are in Thai law. This law was geared, as was correct, to a traditional agrarian society where the elephant had great value as a draft animal. At the time there was very little concern for the welfare of individual animals.

Many organizations, including both government agencies and NGOs, are proposing new laws that will better suit modern times in regulating the use and management of elephants in Thailand.

The two most important ways to avoid problems with the law are to: (1) keep all of your registration and travel documents in perfect order, and (2) do not take elephants to urban areas where it is clear that trouble is likely to arise.

Registration Certificate

You are required to have a valid Registration [and ownership] Certificate [dtua pim ruuphaphan] for every elephant you own. If you own or keep an elephant that has no Registration Certificate (or has a Certificate that belongs to another elephant), that animal is liable to confiscation unless you are able to prove ownership and to prove that the elephant was honestly acquired. This document is legally required to be in your possession when you are with the elephant, particularly when travelling.

Acquiring or changing Registration Certificates always takes place at the Registration Office in your home district. Registration Certificates are valid for life, and only three circumstances legally require changes to the actual document: (1) calves reaching eight years, (2) a change of owners, and (3) the elephant’s death.

When calves reach the age of eight years (or within 90 days thereafter), the owner is required to attain a Registration Certificate. Owners who wish can at an earlier age acquire an alternative document called the "stable offspring certificate" (bai luuk khawk) that also indicates ownership. Until recently, at least, this document has been of questionable usefulness because government officials usually do not question the ownership of a calf younger than eight or so when the calf is with a mature female presumed to be its mother. Another problem posed by the "stable offspring certificate" is that elephants under eight years of age change very quickly and thus have few distinct defining characteristics.

When there is a change of owners (or within 90 days thereafter), the new owner(s), accompanied by the old owner(s), must modify the Registration Certificate. Reporting and registering a change is required with all sales, purchases, and even inheritances within a family. An official will record the change and write the details of the new owner(s) on the back of the document. Both the old and new owner (s) should bring their Identity Cards and Household Registration Certificates.

The death of an elephant requires the owner to report within 15 days. The Registration Certificate must be surrendered at the Registration Office.

Before moving the carcass of an elephant to another province, you must take the elephant’s Registration Certificate and the Certificate Allowing Transportation (see page 8) and first report to the District Veterinarian in the new location in order to request his permission to make the move and to specify the route. Violators are subject to punishment, either a fine not exceeding 1 000 baht or more than two months in jail or both (Animal Epidemic Disease Law, 1956, Livestock Department).

Epidemic diseases

In cases of elephants having contracted or died from an epidemic disease, you must report the case to the District Veterinarian within 24 hours. If alive, it is forbidden to move the elephant out of the immediate area. The law has several other requirements but the wisest thing to do is if you simply follow the orders of the District Veterinarian (Animal Epidemic Disease Law, 1956, Livestock Department).

Urban areas

Whenever you take an elephant into an urban area which is subject to municipal regulation, such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, etc., you potentially face many different legal problems from many different laws. If the police or municipal officials wish to make things difficult for you, you can be charged with violations of traffic laws, laws on public order, laws on cleanliness, laws on destruction of property (such as destroying a tree), etc.

Keep copies

Keep at least two certified copies of the Registration Certificate in different places, in case one should be lost or destroyed. When at the Registration Office acquiring a Registration Certificate you can request additional copies, which if signed by the Registrar to be correct copies have equal validity as legal documents. Extra copies cost only a few baht each and they can save you much money and hassle by avoiding the expenses and problems caused by lost and damaged documents. It is not clever to have a perfectly legal elephant confiscated, even if only temporarily, because a single piece of paper has been lost or misplaced.

Keep the original document (with fee stamps on the back) in a safe place at home. When travelling, carry a certified copy with you; in fact, on the road, where accidents are more likely to happen, it is safest and easiest to have two copies with two different people in the party.

In your copy of the Mahout’s Handbook do write down the date, location, and serial number (including receipt book number) of the Registration Certificate of your elephants. In the case of a lost certificate, this information will speed up the process of getting a replacement.

It is a good idea to buy strong plastic sleeves or envelopes to store these fragile documents. Try not to fold them.


A microchip is a device inserted into the body of the elephant in order to identify it as an individual. The microchip system has two components, the microchip itself and a reader, a device that can determine the unique code number of a microchip.

A microchip is a device that is very small, about the diameter of a grain of rice and about 1 cm long. Inside a glass pellet is a unique code number which is never duplicated. The microchip is injected under the elephant’s skin. Veterinarians usually implant the chip in the back of the left ear.

A microchip reader has the ability to read the chip’s individual number from a distance of about 10 centimetres. The code usually consists of nine digits or otherwise, as below.

TN 123-456-789 or 123-456-789 A or 4D 123-456-789

The usefulness of microchips

Microchips are useful because presently there is only the Registration Certificate which can determine ownership of an elephant, and that document has insufficient details. Consequently, it is possible for illegally captured wild elephants or illegally imported elephants, or for stolen elephants, to be issued a Registration Certificate. Implanting a microchip can prevent such fraudulent registration. A microchip also makes it very easy for an official to know the animal’s registration history when an elephant is being transported or its medical history when receiving veterinary treatment.

The current situation

Presently both NGOs and government agencies are for free implanting microchips in elephants all over the country.

Many people are afraid of microchips but to a law abiding owner, microchips are just like the registration papers for a vehicle, which include that vehicle’s unique numbers on its engine and chassis, numbers that are hard to change or destroy. If you have registered an elephant and it is stolen and then found, you will get it back. If you are registered, you will never have to prove it is not an elephant illegally brought in from Myanmar.

In any case, microchips do not presently play any significant role legally because microchips are not required by law and, further, because although many elephants have been microchipped by many different government agencies and NGOs, there is yet no central database that compiles all of the numbers in one central place. Further, the place where chips have been implanted has not been standardized; chips have been placed both behind the ears and in the shoulders on both the right and left sides. Further, the readers are expensive and thus inaccessible to many officials.

Transporting elephants

Before transporting elephants, make the following preparations:

1. Plan the journey
2. Prepare the elephant
3. Prepare the vehicle and the necessary equipment
4. Prepare the required documents

1. Plan the journey

Before travelling, the mahout should know following the essential details: the route to be taken, the approximate time of travel, and the destination point. This information is essential so that the elephant is assured of having sufficient food and water while on the road. The easiest thing is to prepare banana tree stalks and other food with high moisture content, as this is more convenient to carry than ordinary food and water. Also the mahout or manager should ensure that there is a suitable and easy place for the elephant to board the truck and to disembark from the truck at the destination, especially if the elephant is hard to unload. If the elephant must travel far (more than one day), the mahout should know places to buy or find food and water.

Warning: It is essential to avoid travelling in strong sunlight because the elephant can suffer from such exposure even to the point of death. Travelling at night is best.

2. Prepare the elephant

Before transporting an elephant, the animal should be given time, at least two or three days, to rest and to eat and drink to its satisfaction. For cow elephants and calves, it is not good for them to travel alone; it is best if they have an elephant they are familiar with as a travel companion. (The mother will not be apprehensive and will be easier to control.) Most importantly, in moving elephants to a location with which they are unfamiliar, it is essential that the mahout should always stay very near the elephant and should never desert the elephant.

When transportation involves a vehicle, the mahout should know whether the elephant is familiar with climbing on and off a truck. If the elephant is difficult to load or the animal is fearful, other people must be called in to help in the loading. It is best if the elephant has been practiced and is comfortable getting on and off a vehicle, because if not the loading can be difficult: wasting a lot of time, putting the animal in great stress and possibly even wounding it with spears or elephant hooks.

3. Prepare the vehicle and equipment

If transportation is by motor vehicle, the mahout or manager must be satisfied as to the size and the condition of the vehicle, in order to assure a safe and punctual arrival. The mahout or manager should determine that the vehicle is legally registered and properly insured. The driver should have a valid commercial driver’s license, either Class 2 or Class 3. The mahout should determine that the driver is even-tempered and, preferably, has experience transporting elephants.

4. Prepare the required documents

The manager, owner, or mahout should make sure they have in their possession the original Registration Certificate when they apply for travel papers. When travelling, a copy is sufficient and the mahout should be ready to at any time present a copy of the Registration Certificate to any inspecting official.

Before travel, the manager, owner, or mahout must prepare the four following documents:

1. A guarantee of the suitability of the destination as an appropriate place for the elephant. This guarantee is issued by the Livestock Department. Before travel, the owner or manager must contact responsible officials of the Livestock Department at the destination.

2. The original Registration Certificate and a copy of the same.

3. A certificate guaranteeing that the elephant has been vaccinated in the elephant’s home district. The owner, manager or mahout must get this certificate from the district Livestock Department.

4. A copy of the elephant owner’s National Identity Card and the Household Registration Certificate. If the owner is not the person in charge while transporting the elephant, then he must prepare a Power of Attorney designating the person who will have responsibility, and that person must have copies of their National Identity Card and their Household Registration Certificate and of the Power of Attorney when they apply for travel papers.

The person applying for travel papers must supply the street number, district, and province of the destination. Also, he must supply the registration number of the vehicle to be used.

With all of these documents, the responsible person wanting to transport an elephant (or the carcass thereof) should go to the office of either the district or provincial Livestock Department in the elephant’s home and request a Certificate Allowing Transportation, official form R. 4. Rachanajakr. When returning home, the same procedure is to be followed at the district Livestock Department of the work place.

Once having acquired the Certificate Allowing Transportation at the departure point, the person named in the Certificate must move the elephant via the route described. The vehicle must stop and present for inspection both the documents and the elephant to responsible officials at all of the Livestock Department checkpoints on the route.

After having reached the destination, the elephant must be kept in the place designated by the Livestock Department veterinarian in for no less than ten days before it can be moved to another place.

If an elephant is moved without permission or moved by a route or to a destination other than the one described in the Certificate Allowing Transportation, the responsible person is liable to punishment of not more than six months in jail or a fine of no more than 10 000 baht, or both.

After the elephant has reached its destination, it is important to inspect to see if it has wounds of the mouth, feet, legs, trunk, tail, or body that come from being jostled about. Any wounds must be treated immediately. Especially important is to inspect the eyes for any irritation or infection from the wind or wind-blown foreign objects during travel. If so, wash the eyes and administer eye drops immediately; then have a veterinarian inspect the problem and provide further treatment.

Stall in truck

If an elephant is travelling by truck, it is best if a stall is built for it. (That stall can easily be dismantled and used again for the same type of truck: ten-wheel, six-wheel, etc.) To the mahout who has never seen or used one, the stall must look like it is meant to keep the elephant from running away, or milling around, or attacking the mahout. Once in a long while it does serve all of these purposes.

The real purpose of the corral, however, is to provide the elephant with some support and, even more, to help the elephant easily find balance. When a fast moving truck goes up or down hill, or into a turn, or when the truck brakes quickly, an elephant that has no support must constantly use its muscles to correct for the "pull" exerted. It looks like the elephant is doing nothing but in fact it is hard at work physically and even mentally, because the elephant must remain constantly alert. Such an elephant will arrive at the destination physically exhausted.

The situation is no different for a man and an elephant. Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a ten-wheel truck with no support for a twelve hour journey. Then imagine how much easier it would be if you could put a hand on a rail on the side of the truck. It is true the elephant has four legs, which makes it easier, but it is also harder for the elephant because it cannot react so quickly as a human can.

With a stall, the elephant can lean a modest percentage of its weight against a rail. Going uphill, the elephant will lean its rump slightly against the rear rail. Going downhill (or when the truck brakes), the elephant will lean its chest slightly against the front rail. In curves, it will lean part of its shoulder or body into the side rails. The rails provide some support, taking the load off of muscles, but more importantly they help the elephant find balance. The elephant reaches its destination in good condition, not having wasted a lot of strength and mental energy for lack of support.

Another advantage of the stall is fewer behavioural problems, such as panic or 'aggression’, which often arise when an elephant feels itself unsafe and in danger.

Corrals like this are quite common throughout the north but rarely used in the northeast. Making and using a stall is especially appropriate when moving elephants on highways that are steep and have many curves, particularly when shipping over long distances. The cost is very cheap, using only four poles, which must be strong and resilient, and only two bolts. As for the rope used, most mahouts will have it at hand already.

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