Thai elephants await postflood tourists

Elephants are fed fresh sugarcane at the elephant Elephants are fed fresh sugarcane at the elephant camp in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand. Seventeen out of 92 elephants were stranded at the elephant camps in Ayutthaya province after floods that submerged north and central parts of the country for more than two months. (Oct. 31, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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A huge workforce in Thailand is back on the job: the elephants famous for carrying tourists through the country's ancient capital.

Authorities reopened a major elephant park in Ayutthaya this week, hoping to show tourists the country is beginning to return to normal after historic floods.

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The park is famous for offering tourists elephant rides through the ancient temple ruins that dot the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site 50 miles north of Bangkok. Experts fear that at least half of the more than 200 waterlogged monasteries and other monuments in the one-time royal capital have been damaged by Thailand's worst floods in more than half a century.

On Tuesday, the major temples were dry, but dead fish and piles of debris and garbage littered the grounds, highlighting the massive cleanup effort that lies ahead. Shops in the city are reopening, but the streets have been largely empty of tourists. Thailand's tourism industry as a whole has been mostly unaffected by the flooding, with visitors simply avoiding the inundated central region and heading to mountain and beach areas unaffected by the floods.

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