By Pongphon Sarnsamak
Official to seek DSI probe; experts say locals can help protection efforts
The chief of Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, will next week ask the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to probe the possible involvement of politically connected criminal gangs in the recent killing of wild elephants in the park.
Meanwhile, experts suggested that restoring the park’s elephant habitats and persuading local villagers to help take care of the animals would be a key measure to protect the animals in national parks.
Chaiwat said he was collecting evidence relating to the suspected involvement of criminal gangs in the poaching of elephants and will hand it to the DSI. He said he personally believed that politicians might be involved.
“The elephant deaths have mostly taken place in national parks with large elephant populations. Somebody does not want this issue to be reported via the media, but I want the public to know about this cruel issue. I am not afraid to reveal the truth. Nor am I afraid of being transferred to another area,” he said.
He was speaking at a seminar titled “The Elephant Management in National Parks” organised by Kasetsart University.
He also presented a video clip showing a conversation between himself and a confessed elephant poacher who has since become a suspect in an elephant killing in Kaeng Krachan National Park last year.
In the clip, the alleged offender admits being part of an elephant poaching gang. He said he went to the jungle with four or five friends and spent about one or two days each time hunting elephants and taking their babies. To kill adult elephants, he said, his gang would shoot them in the head. According to Chaiwat, wild elephants are killed for parts such as their trunks, tails, sexual organs and even wombs, to produce amulets and sell on the black market, especially online.
There are an estimated 250 wild elephants in Kaeng Krachan National Park. Since last year, about four adult and one baby elephant have been killed there.
Poaching is not the only threat facing wild elephants in the national park; destruction of their natural habitats – especially grasslands – to make way for residential development is also a problem. Only 40 per cent of the areas inside national parks are now suitable habitats for wild elephants, according to Assoc Prof Naris Bhumpakphan, an expert in wildlife biology at Kasetsart University.
To resolve the problems facing wild elephants in the long term, Naris said state environmental agencies should protect their habitats and encourage locals to stop harming the animals and start helping to take care of the elephants’ environment.
Moreover, he suggested the government establish protected corridors linking wildlife populations – including elephant groups – that have been fragmented by human activities. Sustainable use of land, both as forests and for residential purposes, is also important for elephant conservation, he said.
Assoc Prof Wutthichai Kapilakarn, rector of Kasetsart University, said his institute would conduct a comprehensive study to find the best way to manage wild-elephant populations nationwide and would submit the results to the government as a master plan for resolving elephant-related problems. A research team will spend about two months surveying the population of wild elephants using unmanned aerial vehicles.
Meanwhile, Chaiwat said he wanted the government to survey the number of elephants currently housed in elephant camps across country, as he had been told by ex-hunters that some camps have been illegally using wild elephants.