Tiny solution to jumbo problem
Special report: The best offence against farm intrusions by elephants may be a good 'beehive fence'
Farmers across Thailand have borne the brunt of crop damage due to invasions by wild elephants for decades. Several measures to thwart such intrusions have been rolled out, including building electric fences around farmland, but none of them have deterred these determined jumbos.
The problem has become increasingly serious over the past few years as a shortage of food in the forests, along with a recent surge in the elephant population, has forced these wild animals to stray into farms in search of sustenance.
Sadly, all too often, the results are injuries, or even deaths, to both humans and the animals themselves.
Authorities have been working to come up with better solutions.
The latest innovation is the so-called "beehive model" which harnesses elephants' instinctive avoidance of honey bees.
The model was tested by researchers at Phu Luang Wildlife Research Station in the northern province of Loei, and national parks nationwide are now poised to adopt "beehive fences" in a bid to find an ecologically sound solution that satisfies both landowners and conservationists.
Kui Buri National Park, in Prachuap Khiri Khan, is among the parks trialling this new deterrent.
Elephants play a big role in bringing in revenue from tourists to the region who came to see them in the wild. But conflict remains, with farmers complaining about frequent incursions onto their rubber plantations and pineapple orchards around the national park.
Last week, the park installed 40 beehive boxes in fences in the farm communities in tambon Ban Ruam Thai and tambon Hat Kham in Kui Buri district.
Local farmers were trained to take care of the hives, harvest the honey, and record their progress by sending updates to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
The beehive model was welcomed by residents, not only because it can keep jumbos at bay, but also because they hope to make use of the honey either at home or by selling it for extra revenue, said Rachaya Rachaya Arkhachak, a researcher at the DNP.
She added that farmers from other regions have already begun making inquiries about utilising the technique on their land.
Ms Rachaya said residents' opinions on the model would be compiled and used in proposals to the DNP to secure state budget for wider implementation next year.
In addition, Kanchanapan Khamhaeng, chief of the Kui Buri National Park, said the park has also intensified other efforts to address the elephant invasions which have plagued the district for years.
The park has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with True Corporation Plc, a communication conglomerate, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an international non-governmental wildlife preservation organisation, to embark on a project to create an elephant early warning system.
The park will be the country's first forest reserve to be equipped with the system.
A total of 25 closed-circuit cameras will be installed along routes leading to residents' farmland. Once the cameras spot the animals, their photos and locations will be sent to the park office where officials will be stationed around the clock.
Rangers will then be dispatched to herd the elephants back into the forest and away from the agricultural zones.
Mr Kanchanapan said the park and both organisations were in the process of installing the cameras and additional equipment along those routes. It is planned that the system will go live this April.
As with the beehive initiative, if closed-circuit TV proves a success in protecting farmland, the scheme will be expanded to other forests across the country.
Thammanoon Temchai, chief of the Phetchaburi National Parks Research Centre, said the elephant population increased in the western Kui Buri and Kaeng Krachan national parks between 1997 and 2017.
It is projected that the number of elephants could rise to 600 in 2027 (from 230 this year) across both national parks.
Therefore, it is imperative that farmers and agencies work together to come up with humane and effective solutions for managing the animals and keeping them away from agricultural areas, he said.
Another initial measure being taken is instructing farmers whose land is located close to the the forest not to grow crops that elephants like to eat in order to reduce the chances of herds leaving the forest, Mr Thammanoon said.