DNA database to protect elephants

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk has vowed to solve within a year issues related to Thailand’s elephants.

Preecha planned to build a DNA database on 4,000 or so domesticated elephants in order to stop people taking over identity papers of deceased pachyderms and replacing them with elephants taken in the wild.

After a Wednesday press conference to discuss the February 35 elephant fair at the Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang’s Hang Chat district, Preecha said he would contact the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of issuing elephant identification papers, for information about the beasts living in camps and elsewhere nationwide.

He said, once the data was collected, university veterinarians could start collecting the blood samples for DNA tests.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) will also carry out DNA tests on wild elephants in order to create a database for comparison, he said.

Preecha explained that the killing of two elephants in the Kaeng Krajan National Park had alerted the authorities about elephant issues and that he had instructed the DNP to cooperate with police.

Commenting on news that DNP chief Damrong Pidet had avoided discussing the killings in order to protect his subordinates, Preecha said DNP had given the police full authority to investigate the case so the wrongdoers could be punished. He confirmed that no “favoured persons” would be saved.

Besides, Preecha said that he would chair the factfinding committee himself and would call a meeting on Friday in order to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, National Elephant Institute director Worawit Rojanapaithoon said the project of surveying the elephant population and studying their genetic diversity had made good progress. So far, blood samples have been collected from 1,000 elephants, though officials have only completed DNA tests on 700 samples because the budget is limited to Bt4 million a year. He said that once a DNA database was completed, it would be quicker and easier to check on elephants.

Worawit is also urging the government to give an agency the clear authority to oversee elephant camps, allowing for systematic checking, so people will find it more difficult to bring in young wild elephants to take over the identity of deceased elephants. The institute is currently taking care of four baby elephants that were seized from smugglers.

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