By PIYAPORN WONGRUANG
Once again the authorities have fallen back on the double-edged sword of Article 44 and its absolute power. Yesterday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha issued a new order under the legislation to end unfinished business regarding the registration of domes
If achieved, registration would have a great impact in conserving wild elephants, which has long been the country’s most critical wildlife management challenge.
Under the order, the origins of the country’s estimated 3,000 domesticated elephants will be checked. Their certificates of identity will be verified and their DNA collected for bloodline checks. If the owners fail to complete the process within the next year, their animals will be seized.
The order also requires the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to work together to overhaul existing laws for better protection of elephants.
Those working in wildlife protection say the ID certificates of domesticated elephants have opened a major loophole for wild-elephant poachers, who often employ brutal methods.
Rangers at Kaeng Krachan National Park, the country’s largest, have encountered gruesome killings by hunters attempting to take away live baby elephants from the herd. To get one young elephant, the officials said poachers had to kill at least the mother and sister of the infant. Afterwards, the baby would be beaten until it was docile enough to be transported and sold into private hands.
The problem is that private owners can easily conceal the origins of an elephant because the crude ID certificates simply use drawings of major markings on the animals’ bodies to differentiate them. Even worse, under an outdated 1939 law, the certificates are not issued immediately to help identify new-born baby elephants, but only when the animals have reached eight years of age.
With such loose registration and certification, wild elephants continue to end up in the kind of sorry state we often witness in news reports.
The new order has thus brought fresh hope among conservationists that it will improve the plight of elephants in the wild.
The sad fact is that these simple processes could have been accomplished long ago if concerned agencies had managed to agree and help one another fix the loopholes. Protection of the country’s most revered creature should have been the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, given the fact that it has jurisdiction over animal conservation – but that has not been the case.
The new order could be a boon for the animals, but it also demonstrates the weakness of state authority, which has time and again failed to help resolve the country’s problems.
Article 44 is absolute and unchallengeable, and thus an extreme measure for a society in transition to civilian rule. It is not a cure-all and must be invoked selectively and only as a last resort.
Its latest use offers a lesson in how we have failed as a country in protecting our natural wilderness. The time has come to nurture public awareness of the value of and threats to our natural heritage, so that we no longer have to rely on the iron fist to protect and nurture the delicate beauty of nature.