Smuggling ring threatens wild elephants
Thailand’s wild elephants are at an increasingly higher risk of extinction than ever before despite being officially protected. On average three of the giant animals have been hunted down and killed in each of the past two years, according to statistics from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
The carcasses of four male pachyderms were found only a few days after the New Year in the western province of Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan district, where the incident took place close to the road. Hunters shot the animals with a powerful gun in their foreheads, while destroying evidence by cutting out the front of the skulls, burning bullet holes, and the elephant corpses themselves. Ivory tusks, tails, and sexual organs were taken.
National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department’s director-general Damrong Pidech said he experienced this type of elephant hunting for the first time in the country.
He earlier suspected the killing was made by foreign hunters, as he said the scene was similar to a Bengal tiger hunt where two Vietnamese men were arrested in June last year in the forest of Thung Yai Naresuan national park next to Umphang district in the northern province of Tak.
However, according to his latest report, Damrong said he had clues that the smuggling ring involved local and national politicians, and some civil servants, whom he claimed supplied the weapons, while the large mammal’s organs were sent to restaurants in the resort island of Phuket for foreign customers.
Elephant flesh is not usually consumed by Thais, he said.
The suspected ring of smugglers has been hunting elephant in Thailand western forests along the Myanmar border. Ethnic minorities living near the border, he said, usually do the job. Apart from taking the organs, baby elephants are kidnapped for sending to elephant camps nationwide to be trained and reared for elephant shows at home or sent overseas. A baby elephant is usually valued at Bt200,000.
According to Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, the large mammals range and foraging area is as close as 500 metres from the road, and there are more than 250 elephants living there.
The number of rangers in the national park, covering over 1.8 million rai of land, almost three thousand square kilometres, and they are unable to adequately patrol and monitor the area, he admitted, while the weapons the rangers carry are less powerful than those the elephant smuggling ring uses.
“Some of the people living here are not Thais and they are without official nationality. They’re basically good at living in the forest, which includes hunting and using weapons. When they’re sponsored by city people in terms of weapons, it’ll make it easier for them to practice their skills and hunting the elephants this way,” Chaiwat said.
Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) founder Soraida Salwala said the problem facing Thai elephants is their shrinking habitat, causing them to seek food in local farms, which brings danger to the animals themselves as well as likely accidents, confrontations and cruel incidents.
“Elephants are out seeking food and then they’re hunted by humans. Actually, this has going happening for a long time. Elephant organs are used to make curios, accessories such as rings, bracelets, and for home decor,” Soraida said.
As elephants are Thailand national symbol, His Majesty King Bhumibol and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, have expressed concern the issue and asked the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department director to find solutions to the problem and prevent this brutal hunting from happening again.
According to Damrong, elephants do not seek food every day. One solution to the problem, he suggested, is setting up a national food fund foundation for wild elephants, where local farmers can allow the large mammals to seek forage in their farms and then charge the foundation according to how much the elephants eat.
The authorities, NGOs, education and community organisations are seeking ways to handle the situation, and communities all over the country are urged to protect their local natural resources heritage in the hope of putting an end to the hunting.
There are now only some 1,750 elephants left in Thailand’s forests countrywide, Damrong noted.
Apart from hunting to fill the exotic menu cravings for elephant meat lovers, some hunters see the value of the elephant hunt as demonstrations of their power and prowess, as man against beast in the wild. But modern weapons make the contest quite unbalanced.
Also, there is a continuing trade in elephant organs being used for worship in religious and spirit cult ceremonies, and as totems and charms to bring wealth and happiness, or curiously, as holy objects to prevent and eliminate viciousness and atrocity from individual human characters, while the male animal’s sexual organ is grilled as a special food to boost sexual drive and performance.