Parks must be made safer

Parks must be made safer

A lone traveller's trip to Khao Yai National Park ended in tragedy as the tent he slept in was attacked by a wild elephant in the wee hours of yesterday morning.

According to local media reports, the pachyderm, a well-known bull elephant named "Phi Due", encountered the tourist's tent near Pha Kluai Mai at around 2am yesterday morning. The media quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the elephant became upset for unknown reasons and suddenly stomped on the tent and flung the man into a tree. The man died at the scene and the elephant made off back into the forest.

The park announced the closure of its camping ground after the incident.

This is the first time the 35-year-old bull elephant has hurt and killed someone. In 2019, a clip showing him stomping on a tourist's car went viral. Yet, the park which previously maintained that the beast was friendly, suspects he was in "musth", a period of reproductive urgency in bull elephants, and that was the cause of his violent behaviour.

An incident like this begs the question of whether the park, which is particularly popular during the cool season, has a sufficient buffer zone separating the camping grounds and tourist areas from the wild animals' habitat and the natural trails they roam for food. With a physical barrier in place, the bull elephant could not have reached the camping ground so easily.

It also remains unclear whether the park had security guards present or on standby somewhere close, although it seems unlikely due to shortages of staff and budget at the moment.

In fact, the issue of a buffer zone has come up in the past at this park, which is part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, spanning Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Ratchasima and Prachin Buri provinces, mostly after wild animals themselves suffer fatal accidents.

Back in 2019, about a dozen elephants died when they plunged to the bottom of a steep waterfall in separate incidents. Some conservationists blamed park mismanagement that places tourism and money before animal or environmental welfare. There are allegations that the animals' natural trails had become a tourist service area which caused the naturally cautious beasts to choose a more risky path, along which they plummeted to their death.

Local environmentalists are concerned by the number of elephants that perish in unfortunate and avoidable circumstances almost every year, with many incidents not being reported in the media.

Unfortunately, their calls for the return of a safe trail for the elephants have not met the positive response they warrant.

Not to mention that Khao Yai, despite earning World Heritage status, has a big problem with uncharted development now separating and isolating some spots in the forest. Human encroachment has only worsened the problem. Conservationists have noted that the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) formulated a plan in 1996 to develop a wildlife migration corridor on a 2,700-rai tract in the area designated for reforestation, which could afford the wild animals more protection, but there's been no progress.

Without considered development, wild habitats are disturbed and the chances of dangerous encounters like this escalate.

The DNP and Khao Yai National Park should not place so much emphasis on tourism, and instead strike a better balance between conservation and management to prevent such tragedies recurring.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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