About Elephants, Welfare and Conservation
01 | Thai Elephant Conservation: Tomorrow May Be Too Late
Elephant Awaiting Treatment at TECC Hospital
Honoured and praised above all animals in the past, Thai elephants had to sacrifice their lives at war, and endure hardship in transportation and logging. If only the forests were still green, and enough land existed for them to wander around and breed according to their instincts. At the present time however, forests have been depleted, and those bodies which are bigger than those of other animals have become an obstacle to a quality life, requiring diminishing resources for which elephants must fight with people. Animals that were once praised are now merely hunted for their tusks. The situation of Thai elephants today should concern us very much. Statistics showing decreasing numbers of elephants lead scientists to believe that, barring a resolution to this problem, within 50 years Thai elephants will exist only in history books.
Thai elephants (Elephas maximus), one of the sub-spiecies of Asian elephants, were classified as a threatened wild animal with high risk of extinction by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in 1988, and are also listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), strictly prohibiting the trade in elephants or elephant body parts among member countries. This reflects the fact that Thai elephants are at grave risk of extinction.
Currently in Thailand domesticated elephants are covered by the Draught Animal Act, under the Ministry of the Interior, which puts elephants in the same category as cows, buffaloes, horse, donkeys and mules. As most domestic elephants are in the care of private individuals, proper administration of the laws is difficult, and the number of domestic elephants is decreasing rapidly from a variety of pressures (e.g. the reduction of forest space, killing for ivory, testicles, babies etc).
The forest is no longer an inviolate piece of land that can bear the population of wild elephants at a sufficient level to maintain their species. Wild elephants in Thailand are scattered in national parks around the country. Most of the conservation areas where the wild elephants live are just small islolated pieces, and agricultural areas or towns surround these forests, a major obstruction to natural breeding. Elephants in each forest are caught on "green islands" and cannot walk back and forth between these areas. Thus, inbreeding among closed relatives is inevitable, which leads to an inferior population and causes genetic diseases leading, ultimately, to extinction.
Another problem widely perceived by the public is the fact that many NGO's (non-governmental organizations) are working for elephants, which should help elephants to solve its elephant problems. Because of many limitations and a lack of cooperation between government and the private sector, however, the process of elephant conservation is not as effective as it should be.
Many problems face Thai elephants at the present time, and there is little time left to procrastinate. If we want to hear the soft footsteps of Thai elephants into the next century and beyond, cooperation on all fronts is necessary from this day forward. Tomorrow may be too late.
Published In: Support an Endangered Species