Elephant kills Thai man at beachside restaurant

BANGKOK - An elephant killed a 28-year-old Thai man and injured his colleague as they were eating dinner at a beachside restaurant in eastern Thailand, police said on Wednesday.

The local telecoms employee died in hospital after the elephant gored his chest with its tusk as he ate hotpot with a fellow worker in the coastal city of Rayong late Monday.

"They were talking to the mahout (elephant keeper) about buying food for the elephant when it suddenly stabbed one man in the chest with its tusk and kicked the other," local police Lieutenant Thawat Nongsingha told AFP.

The mahout has been charged with offences including violating animal welfare legislation and negligence causing death, Thawat said.

He added the mahout had been released from custody while the elephant was still under the mahout's care.

The maximum penalty for negligence causing death is 10 years in jail and a fine of 20,000 baht (S$797).

Thailand's roughly 4,000 domesticated elephants outnumber an estimated 2,500 remaining in the wild. The capture of wild elephants for entertainment use is banned.

Domestic elephants in Thailand - where the pachyderm is a national symbol - have been used en masse in the tourist trade since they found themselves unemployed in 1989 when logging was banned.

They are prohibited from entering cities but incidents of mahouts using the animals as a tool for begging are not uncommon, while elephants are frequently used legally for the amusement of holidaymakers in camps and zoos.

The telecoms worker died on Tuesday while his 30-year-old colleague remains in hospital.