Thai experts blame elephant attacks on human activities

Thai experts blame elephant attacks on human activities
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Quick measures, reforestation on mountainous land ineffective, they say.

THE problem of man-elephant confrontations stem mainly from human factors as people continue encroaching into wild habitats, while the implementation of short-term solutions worsen the situation even more, experts have pointed out.

More coordination between agencies and people as well as a better understanding of the nature of wild elephants is necessary to avoid attacks by the animal, which is Thailand's national symbol.

With reports of wild elephants frequently destroying crops and property in recent headlines, a forum on seeking solutions to the problem was held yesterday in Bangkok by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation's Catalysing Sustainability of Thailand's Protected Area System. Some 100 officials from related agencies attended the event.

Naris Bhumpakphan, a lecturer at Kasersart University's Faculty of Forestry, said this was not a new problem as man-elephant confrontations could be traced back to ancient times. However, he said, the recent conflict between the two species was largely due to the loss of wild habitat.

"Both people and large animals prefer to live on flat fertile land, hence forest encroachment to build farms fragment forests into pockets of mountainous area, which is unsuitable for elephants to live on," Naris said. "The boom of cash crops have led to the increase of plantations around forests and this crop is seen by the elephants as easily accessible food, so they invade plantations."

Moreover, Department inspector-general Thongtham Suksawang said degraded forestland was also being reforested with plants that were unsuitable for elephants.

Naris also pointed out that short-term procedures taken to solve the elephants' invasion problem were indeed ineffective and worsened the situation.

"People's normal methods of keeping away wild elephants - such as building electric fences or creating food sources directly in the forest - have proved to be ineffective," he said.

He reasoned that elephants were intelligent animals and that they knew how to break the human line of defence. He explained that scare tactics usually work in the beginning before the animals learn to overcome them.

"Creating food supply in the forest will eventually increase the artificial population of elephants and in the end the number of elephants will grow beyond the forest's capacity and the intrusion will resume," he said.

The Department estimates that there are some 3,000 wild elephants residing in Thai forests, while the number of pachyderms in some national parks, such as the five parks in the East, has increased over the last decade, giving rise to more elephant invasions. Working on the Kui Buri Model on elephant control, Wayuphong Jitwijak from World Wildlife Fund Thailand explained that it has been successful at the Kui Buri National Park, as it helps provide a secure home for elephants that is free from human pressure and has enough food supply.

"It needs co-operation and a clear policy from the authorities, as climate change is shifting the weather pattern and decreasing the food supply for elephants. We also have to encourage people to understand the nature of elephants as well as have a clear plan on compensating the victims of elephant attacks," Wayuphong said.

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