Wild elephants threaten farms

Wild elephants threaten farms

Locals seek help with controlling marauding herds

A wild elephant was spotted outside its natural habitat in Kanchanaburi province last month. (Photo: Piyarat Chongcharoen)
A wild elephant was spotted outside its natural habitat in Kanchanaburi province last month. (Photo: Piyarat Chongcharoen)

Phimphitcha Soonjirad, a 40-year-old teacher from Sai Yok Noi Vitthaya School in Mauen in tambon Chorsadao in Kanchanaburi’s Mueang district, on Friday night accompanied a group of local villagers on a patrol close to her village located inside Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary, which harbours around 270 wild elephants. Her team’s work is just one of many initiatives tried by the locals in a bid to keep the herd from causing damage to the community.

She has spent over 20 years battling the wild jumbos that regularly destroy farmland and other assets.

Unfortunately, the villagers have noticed that the animals now appear far less fearful of humans as their intrusions become more frequent. The locals say that their patrol team alone cannot prevent these giant intruders. They want a strong fence to prevent them from entering the village, as without concrete plans to stop the problem, the elephants might venture not only into the village but also into the city of Kanchanaburi itself.

“They often came to my house because they loved eating my mangoes. I cut down the mango trees in front of my house and shouted loudly as I let off firecrackers in the hope of scaring them back into the forest again,” she said.

The wildlife sanctuary is one part of the western forest complex, connecting to Huai Kha Kheng Wildlife Sanctuary. The Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the top forest complexes that is now facing the challenging problem of confrontations between humans and elephants.

The others are the Phu Khieo-Nam Nao forest complex in Loei, the Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai forest complex in Nakhon Ratchasima province, and the Kaeng Krachan forest complex in Phetchaburi province. Together they constitute the habitat of about half of the 4,400 elephants estimated to be in the wild in Thailand.

As construction work and farmland have shrunk forest areas, wild elephants usually invade farmlands for food. Many villagers have been attacked and killed or injured, he said.

Attapon Charoenchansa, acting chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), said that the situation is getting worse, adding that the committee on elephant conservation and management’s sub-committee chaired by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s permanent secretary Jatuporn Buruspat will have a meeting on April 5 to discuss the problem.

The sub-committee will focus on preventive measures, compensation for villagers and a plan to manage the wild elephant population.

“A concrete plan will help us deal with the problem. It will also help the victims get fair and quick compensation. Due to a limited budget of less than 20% of an estimated 100 million baht’s worth of damage, locals have not received enough compensation,” he said.

In response to the community’s problems, Mr Attapon said the department would launch 15 patrol teams in the middle of next month as part of a pilot project in the East to push wild elephants back into the forests.

If these trial patrols are a success, the park chief said that he believed that if implemented nationally the problems posed to rural dwellings by elephants could be cut by 70%.

He further added that the department would have a detention zone of about 2,000 rai in each forest to keep aggressive elephants at a safer distance, saying that the zones could limit damage to human habitats.

Meanwhile, 43 wild elephants were found dead last year, while 22 people died in accidents involving wild elephants, which also accounted for eight people suffering injuries.

Since the beginning of this year, DNP records show ten elephant deaths, 12 human fatalities and 14 more injured people. Currently, the DNP pays out a fixed sum of 50,000 baht to villages that bear the brunt of the incursions.

Meanwhile, Phadet Laithong, director of the Office of Wildlife Conservation, said that the department will seek approval to administer birth-control shots to give to female elephants that have already had at least one calf.

“The effectiveness of one shot of the vaccine can last for seven years,” he said.