Project launched to rid forests of elephant traps


Thailand’s hunters are landing prey they haven’t been hunting – elephants. Wildlife traps strewn by hunters in Thailand’s forests have been injuring and maiming wild elephants, and so the government is launching a project to find and remove them and educate local people about the dangers they pose.

Nearly 150 wild traps made of steel with sharp claws were found planted at Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary in mid-February, just one of the dozens of national parks, sanctuaries, and forests where elephants roam. Those types of traps are known to have maimed five elephants during the past four months. More may have been injured but not spotted by forest rangers.

The Kingdom has just 3,000 or so elephants in the wild, a massive reduction from the 100,000-plus a century ago. Loss of habitat is the chief reason for the decline. The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol.

“We have to survey national parks to understand why such devices are planted there,” Kanchana Nittaya, director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, said at an event marking Thai Elephant Day. “When we know more information, we can come up with proper measures, and we will find which areas are high risk.”

Injured elephants that often receive treatment at the Elephant Hospital in northern Thailand funded by the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation. Some injured elephants have been able to return to the wild. Others must remain in captivity because they can no longer survive in the wild with their injuries.

A few elephants have had to have one of their legs amputated. The hospital has designed prosthetic limbs for those injured elephants.

The traps are “highly destructive. They can kill or maim wild animals because the steel claws are designed to tighten and sink deeper under the skin when animals try to escape,” Kanchana said, adding many animals that free themselves die later from infections caused by their wounds. She called the devices “cruel.”

As farms and towns have expanded across the Kingdom, elephants have sometimes come into conflict with humans, especially farmers. The hungry pachyderms sometimes eat crops, damaging the livelihoods of those farmers. Some farmers have reacted by poisoning or shooting elephants to protect their crops.

The government has been working to educate the farmers on alternative methods to drive away the elephants and reduce conflicts between humankind and the animal kingdom.