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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Five dozen elephants used their trunks on Monday to scoop up bananas, melons and pineapples from baskets at a special buffet laid on in Thailand's ancient capital of Ayutthaya to celebrate the national animal.
For centuries, elephants carried warriors into battle, took a key role in royal ceremonies and provided haulage for logging and other industries, in the absence of machines.
Today they are more likely to be part of tourist attractions - where the animals are often mistreated, however, say rights activists.
"We plan to reduce the exploitation of elephants as much as possible," said Laithongrien Meepan, the manager of the Elephant Kraal and Village in Ayutthaya, where the buffet took place on Thailand's Elephant Day.At the event, a Buddhist monk sprinkled holy water on some of the elephants and their trainers. Spectators also watched a pair of the animals lock tusks to re-enact a scene from an ancient historic battle.
Laithongrien said nearly a third of the elephants at the event no longer gave rides to visitors, but were available to be petted, bathed and fed.
There are about 3,700 elephants left in the wild in Thailand and up to 4,000 domesticated animals, says British conservation organization EleAid.
Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Matthew Tostevin; and Clarence Fernandez