Picture: Natacha Pisarenko/AP/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Bangkok – An elephant handler has been charged with animal cruelty after his elephant was electrocuted on a city street in southern Thailand, police told dpa on Saturday.

The 10-year-old elephant, which was being used to glean cash from tourists, was electrocuted after its foot crashed through a grate concealing live wires late on Friday in Samut Prakan, 30 kilometres south of Bangkok, said Nopporn Sangsawang of Samut Prakan police.

“The gutter lid couldn’t take the weight of more than 1 ton so it broke and the elephant’s hind leg fell into the gutter,” Nopporn said.

The elephant handler has been charged with illegal transport of animals and animal cruelty, with a combined maximum sentence of two years, the police officer added.

There are more than 3 000 domesticated elephants in Thailand. Often, they are used by elephant handlers – known as “mahouts” – who offer tourists the chance to feed them in exchange for cash.

The practice has been outlawed in Thailand’s cities, but many mahouts continue to roam the hot concrete streets with their elephants in defiance of the ban.

“I call this incompetence on the Thai government’s side to allow this to happen,” said Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

“Local communities let them [mahouts] get away with it. I feel extremely sad,” he added.