Police in the Thai resort of Phuket are investigating claims that elephants are being slaughtered so that their trunks and sex organs can be served as food in specialist "bush restaurants".
Wildlife officials have told reporters they believe that two dead elephants found with their sex organs and trunks missing had been killed for their meat. Officials have called in the police, but have denied the existence of such restaurants.
Damrong Phidet, the director-general of Thailand's wildlife agency, said a new taste for the meat could further endanger the country's shrinking wild elephant population.
"The poachers took away the elephants' sex organs and trunks ... for human consumption," he said, adding that he believed some of the meat would be eaten raw, like "elephant sashimi". "The longer we allow these cruel acts to happen, the sooner they will become extinct."
It appears that at least one of the animals was found in Kaeng Krachan National Park close to the border with Burma, where stateless poachers are known to operate.
Officials at the park also said they believed the animal was destined to be eaten. A park official said that, in addition to Phuket, such restaurants existed in the resorts of Surat Thani and Hua Hin.
But the governor of Phuket has denied the existence of any restaurants and two people named in the Thai media as being involved in the purported meat ring this week came forward to give a press conference proclaiming their innocence.
Although some people have suggested the elephant meat story may be nothing more than an urban myth, Thailand's elephants certainly face a threat from poachers seeking their ivory. A pair of tusks can fetch up to £40,000, say experts.Reuse content