Elephants' Future Truncated
2009-03-13

Bangkok Post
By Apinya Wipatayotin

The plight of Thailand's elephants has reached a crisis point with the current herd of captive beasts expected to disappear in the next 14 years, conservationists say.

But the national committee in charge of protecting the welfare of elephants has not met since 2003 and is badly in need of reform.

The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department is pressing for the renewal of the committee on Thai elephants and wants it chaired by the natural resources and environment minister.

Department chief Kasemsun Chinnavaso said the committee should be an effective agency to deal with the serious problems plaguing elephants.

"The agency would have the full authority to manage elephants that have strayed, deal with the illegal trade and be able to adjust the law to keep up to date with the changing situation," Mr Kasemsun said.

He said state agencies, the private sector, activists and academics could work together to draft action plans to deal with problems. His proposal will be submitted to the minister for his consideration and then to the cabinet.

Thailand is one of 13 countries where Asian elephants are born in the wild. It is thought to have a population of 3,000 animals. Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary Park in Uthai Thani is home to the biggest population, with 700.

Permanent secretary for natural resources and the environment Saksit Tridech said the birthrate among captive elephants had plummeted and their survival rate was diminishing.

"We expect captive elephants to disappear within the next 14 years, which means wild elephants will again be under threat from hunters to serve the high demand in the market," Mr Saksit said.

Department biologist Mattana Srikrachang said the birthrate among beasts born in the wild was about 10% a year, compared with less than 7% for domesticated elephants.

"The possibility of the extinction of wild elephants is very low," she said. "But the challenge is to educate people.

"Elephants should live in the forest, not on a farm or on the streets. In Bangkok, over 200 stray elephants have been found, especially in the drought season."

Chatchawan Pisdamkham, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, said his agency was organising a meeting next week aimed at overcoming hurdles to improving elephants' quality of life.

 Original Article