Thai elephant meat believed to fuel jungle killings

Elephants stand in low-lying floodwater as they eat grass on the side of a street in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya on October 12, 2011.</p>

Elephants stand in low-lying floodwater as they eat grass on the side of a street in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya on October 12, 2011.

Is a "taste for eating elephant meat" among diners on Thailand's Phuket island behind a recent spate of pachyderm killings?

That's the conclusion the Associated Press has drawn in a new report. A mysterious string of elephant deaths along the Thai-Burma border, according to the wire service, is connected to underground elephant cuisine restaurants.

This theory was first floated several weeks ago -- our blog post on the phenomenon is here -- and at least one wildlife expert finds the claim to be dubious.

Edwin Wiek of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, in an op-ed to Bangkok's The Nation newspaper, contends that rumors of elephant meat eateries can't be proven and that "it seems like a deliberately made-up claim ... the real reason for the killing of these elephants could be explained in a much easier way."

His explanation? A dearth of baby elephants born in captivity has increased demand and shifted procurement of pachyderm calves back to the jungle.

And, apparently, poachers often kill a lot of adult elephants in pursuit of a baby elephant.

"Mothers are being shot and even their nannies and sub-adult males ... trying to protect the calves. Poachers, who have been interviewed, say it is common to kill up to three elephants to take one baby from the forest"