Government steps up efforts to protect Thai elephants

The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol, but the elephant in the room is that more needs to be done to protect these majestic animals, and so the Thai government is preparing a draft law to require that every domestic elephant birth be registered and the elephant given an ID card.

In addition, the government issued instructions to collect DNA samples from every domesticated elephant in the Kingdom and establish a comprehensive database containing their genetic information. The government tasked the Department of Livestock Development and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation with collecting the samples and building the database.

Estimates are that there are about 3,500 domesticated elephants in Thailand. Roughly 3,340 wild elephants live in 69 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks across the country. Thailand’s population of wild elephants has been rising.

However, it’s a far cry from a century ago when at least 100,00 elephants roamed the heavily forested Kingdom. Loss of habitat and poaching helped lead to the steep decline in the elephant population.

Some poaching is still taking place despite harsh penalties and valiant efforts by forest rangers to stop it. Several forest rangers have been killed or wounded in recent years battling poachers of wildlife and protected species of plants and timber.

Poachers have been known to take young or baby elephants from slain adults and forge documents to pass them off as offspring of domesticated elephants.

The new draft and law and genetic database should help put an end to that. The law would require owners to register all domesticated elephants within one month of their birth. Right now, owners can wait as long as eight years to register elephant births with no penalty.

The legislation would also require mahouts working in elephant camps to obtain a license, and elephant camp owners will have to receive a permit to operate their camps from the Department of National Parks and renew that permit every three years, and submit to inspections.

Lastly, the bill calls for the establishment of a national elephant committee chaired by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives permanent secretary. The committee will oversee the protection and welfare of domestic elephants.

With the wild elephant population on the rise, more conflicts have been developing between elephants and farmers, as the elephants, searching for food, sometimes eat their crops.

The Department of National Parks said it would try additional measures to reduce those conflicts including by providing additional food sources for elephants, compensating farmers whose crops have been damaged and creating buffer zones between elephants and communities.

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