Wildlife wars must end
As Thailand celebrates National Elephant Day this week, the country is facing a paradoxical experience, with a surge in human-elephant conflicts that sometimes prove fatal.
March 13 was designated national elephant day in 1998. On the one hand, the elephant is glorified as a national symbol. In bygone days, the national flag even carried the image of an elephant.
On the other hand, human-elephant conflicts, as a result of shrinking habitats due to human expansion, are intensified. Food and sometimes water shortages drive wild elephants to raid farms and plantations as well as villages.
The hotspots for these conflicts include the eastern forest complex, covering five provinces, and the forest complex on the western side, including Uthai Thani's Huai Kha Kaeng and Kanchanaburi's Khao Salak Phra wildlife sanctuaries. Some areas in the Northeast face similar problems, and so do a number of other countries in Asia and Africa.
Conflicts between elephants and humans are anything but new. However, with sluggish solutions, the problem grows serious, with tragic endings sometimes.
Last year, 43 wild elephants were reportedly found dead and eight injured. Since January, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has recorded ten elephant deaths, 12 human fatalities and 14 people injured.
More recently, on March 1, a large herd of famished elephants sent villagers fleeing in Loei's Phu Kradueng district as they trampled on sugarcane plantations. Again, lacking food and the drying up of water resources in the deep forest drove these wild jumbos to community areas.
Due to the intensified frequency of conflicts, the DNP will hold a major meeting on April 5 to find a long-term solution. So far, the agency has been mulling birth control for elephants. Yet, what the country actually needs for its wild jumbos is a comprehensive master plan to enable peaceful co-existence.
As for immediate action, the authorities should implement their plan to ensure sufficient food and water sources in the forests. The DNP must not forget that the wild elephants' welfare is indicative of whether the agency is successful in forest and biodiversity conservation -- rather than mass sterilisation.
Meanwhile, local communities must set up early warning systems and buffer zones to minimise the chances of loss of life. Villagers must learn how to handle invading pachyderms calmly. The use of firecrackers to disperse elephant herds may lead to dangerous confrontations.
This goal is not far-fetched, and there is a solution to this elephantine problem.
It's worth looking into the success of the so-called Kui Buri model in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, where elephants are part of a lush ecological system that has become a top tourist attraction.
The DNP should look at the possibility of applying such a noble model in other potential areas and persuade villagers to join an eco-tourism programme that allows wild animals to live in natural habitats.
Not a quick-fix method by any means, this solution requires incentives, support and fair benefit sharing with villagers who must be open to changes that will take years to realise.
It's no easy task, but they represent a few options that would allow elephants to maintain their status as the pride of the nation while allowing people to lead a better life in a balanced ecological system.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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- Elephant Day