Charging elephant
© Getty
Charging elephant
Elephants feature prominently in religious and national iconography in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, whose national religion credits the jumbos with embodying the supreme qualities of the Buddha himself.

Yet their status as sacred creatures has not stopped some wild elephants from killing three Buddhist monks in three separate incidents recently within the space of a few weeks. Not surprisingly, the killing of the monks by wild elephants has shocked many of the faithful.

"Elephants injure and kill people sometimes, I know, but I assumed they would leave monks unharmed because of their holy power," Sudarat Saetang, a Buddhist, told UCA News.

In one incident last week, Phra Sombun Bunwat, a 64-year-old monk, was found dead with severe head, arm and other injuries in a grassy area of a village beside the Thong Pha Phum National Park in the central Thai province of Kanchanaburi.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the monk had been stomped to death by a wild elephant while he was on his morning alms round outside his monastery. The pachyderm likely encountered the man and charged at him in anger or self-defense.

A few days later, another monk, a 21-year-old novice, was likewise found dead with severe injuries, this time on a mountain in a rural area in the northern province of Kamphaeng Phet. It is believed that the young monk was practicing meditation when he was attacked and killed by a wild bull elephant, which may have been in musth and so more aggressive.

A villager discovered the monk's body when he went looking for the clergyman because he had failed to show up for his daily alms round in the community. "He did not show up this morning, so I walked up the mountain," village headman Kraiwan Nontibut told a Thai-language newspaper. "I was shocked to find him dead."

Meanwhile, in late October, a 52-year-old monk was trampled and gored to death by a wild elephant near his monastery in the seaside province of Chonburi in eastern Thailand. He, too, was on his morning alms round when he was set upon by a pachyderm as he was walking through a grassy area peppered with clumps of vegetation.

A Cambodian woman who worked in the area as a farmhand said she had tried to warn the monk of the presence of foraging elephants by shouting out to him, but he did not seem to hear her or heed her warning. Before the attack a herd of around 30 elephants had descended from the hills to the village in search of food in orchards and plantations, causing concern among locals.

Although attacks by pachyderms on people are rare in Thailand, they do occur periodically. Over the past century the number of elephants in the country has plummeted from around 100,000 to a few thousand, and even the remaining ones have fallen on hard times in their natural habitats.