Dept pledges action over elephant deaths

Dept pledges action over elephant deaths

Environmentalist ends hunger strike

Conservationist Khemthong Morat (sitting in the middle) ended his hunger strike in Khao Yai National Park on Thursday. (Photo by Manit Sanubboon)
Conservationist Khemthong Morat (sitting in the middle) ended his hunger strike in Khao Yai National Park on Thursday. (Photo by Manit Sanubboon)

A conservationist has ended his hunger strike after the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation promised to meet this month to find a solution to the safety problem faced by wild elephants.

Khemthong Morat began his protest on Oct 11, demanding that the department urgently find measures to ensure the safety of wild elephants roaming the forest.

His action came just days after 11 wild elephants fell to their deaths from the Haew Narok waterfall in Khao Yai National Park, Nakhon Nayok province.

On Oct 5, park officials found five elephants dead near the base of the waterfall. Two days later, six more carcasses were located nearby.

The incident marks the largest mass death of wild elephants in the park on record.

Mr Khemthong demanded the department order the removal of park restaurants and other buildings, which he said were blocking the elephants' safe trail through the park.

The conservationist believes the herd came across the buildings and opted for an alternative route, which led them to the waterfall where they fell.

Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the department deputy chief, said his agency would hold a meeting on elephant protection at park headquarters on Oct 30. Stakeholders including academics and civil society groups will discuss ways to deal with the dangers, both natural and man-made, facing wild elephants.

Mr Jongklai said the department will listen to ideas from all sides and come up with the best solution to the problem.

He added the department and forestry experts from Kasetsart University have surveyed the spot where the elephants fell, as well as other high-risk areas in the park.

Officials and experts are working on a safety plan for the wild elephants, he said, but input from public discussions would help make it more effective.

The result of the Oct 30 meeting will be forwarded to the department chief and then to the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment.

Responding to the conservationist's call to dismantle restaurants close to Haew Narok waterfall, Mr Jongklai said the eateries had been there for over 30 years during which time the elephants would have taken alternative trails through the forest.

He said the recent deaths of elephants was likely due to rough weather at the time.

He explained the elephants may have attempted to cross the top of the waterfall and were swept away by the strong current.

This is despite the fact that October usually marks the end of the rains when river levels decline.

"The challenge is to ensure that elephants can cross the falls safely. Stakeholders must seriously address the issues," he said.

Mr Khemthong said yesterday the meeting was a step in the right direction to conserving wild elephants.

Meanwhile, park officials plan to clear the remaining elephant carcasses from the river as soon as possible.

However, the operation is being hampered by the strong current, they said. On Monday, the third of 11 dead wild elephants was recovered from a canal beneath the waterfall.

Water samples collected yesterday from the canal and nearby Khun Dan Prakan Chon reservoir were found to be free of contamination from the decaying elephants.

However, the operation to remove the carcasses is being driven by concern they could taint a drinking-water source which is also used by villagers.

Meanwhile, the Rak Khao Yai (Love Khao Yai) network on Wednesday submitted a letter to Khao Yai National Park, demanding the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation clearly explain the cause of death of the 11 elephants.

The network said it was not convinced by the explanation that the elephants died as a result of rough weather.

The network, which is made up of four Khao Yai conservation groups and seven local environmental clubs, said the government should join hands with environmentalists to draft a master plan to better manage Khao Yai National Park over the long term.

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