Asian elephants, which have been on the list of endangered species since 1976, are now facing a new threat: Thailand's taste for eating elephant meat.
Wildlife officials told The Associated Press that they were alerted to the practice after finding two slaughtered elephants last month in a national park in western Thailand. According to The Nation, at least six have been found dead within three weeks.
Some Asian cultures believe consuming animals' reproductive organs can boost sexual abilities.
The poachers took away the elephants' sex organs and trunks ... for human consumption, Damrong Phidet, director-general of Thailand's wildlife agency, told The Associated Press. Some meat was to be consumed without cooking, like elephant sashimi, he said.
Phidet said that the elephant meat was ordered by restaurants in Phuket, a popular travel destination in the country's south. It was unclear whether the diners were foreigners or not. The accusation drew a quick rebuttal from Phuket governor Tri Akradecha, who told Thai media that he had never heard of such restaurants but ordered officials to look into the matter.
Although a national symbol in Thailand, elephants are poached because their tusks are sought in the illegal ivory trade and baby elephants are sometimes captured to be trained for talent shows, but eating elephant meat is uncommon.
Soraida Salwala, the founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation, told The AP a full grown pair of tusks could be sold from 1 million to 2 million baht ($31,600 to $63,300), while the estimated value of an elephant's penis is more than 30,000 baht ($950).
There's only a handful of people who like to eat elephant meat, but once there's demand, poachers will find it hard to resist the big money, she cautioned.
Thailand has fewer than 3,000 wild elephants and about 4,000 domesticated elephants, according to the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
The situation has come to a crisis point. The longer we allow these cruel acts to happen, the sooner they will become extinct, Damrong said.