Collaring a giant creature takes a lot of hard work. Dangerous too. But it gives us a definitive answer to saving the last wild elephants.
We welcomed the new year with Thailand’s first collaring exercise for wild elephants.
Three elephants, not one, were successfully collared to reduce the risk of human-elephant conflict in a restricted 1000-square-metre forested area of Eastern Thailand.
The collared elephants are located in areas where high human-elephant conflict occurs, also known as the “red zone”.
The statistics are clear: a total of 107 elephant and human conflict occurrences resulted in deaths and injuries, over a five-year period (2012 to 2018) alone, according to Thailand local media news outlet The Nation.
Collaring the elephants, in this case, is one proven way to protect them from getting attacked by humans. Tracking their whereabouts will prevent humans from invading their space.
Reducing human-elephant conflicts
The main reason why both are injuring each other: habitat loss and competition for agricultural land. For the wild elephants, the Eastern Forest Complex has been their home for the past four centuries. Conflict started when human development threatens their home.
As a result, both elephants and humans act against each other, leading to more severe attacks.
The “chosen” ones to get collared
The elephants were not chosen at random. In fact, the DNP team was following the elephants’ behaviour for sometime before they narrowed down to one elephant from the group. One characteristic they look out for: it needs to be a leader and have peers. This ensures that the selected one can represent the movements of a group after installation of collar.
But there are challenges.
Some of the elephants can be too big or aggressive to be collared. When this happens, the field team will have select another suitable candidate or dedicate another day to collar them.
According to WWF-Myanmar country director Christy Williams, the elephants will usually be curious and touch the collar often for the first few days, but will eventually feel like a watch.
“When you wear your watch, you don’t feel it right?” he explained.
Collaring the elephants will also help the field team to define areas the elephants are using the most to patrol smarter.
Data collected from the collars will also help us and local communities to anticipate the elephants’ movements and plan intervention strategies (harmless to both elephants and humans) to effectively reduce conflict issues.
“These collars will be used to study the migratory movements of these elephants so as to resolve the issue of elephants coming in and destroying the agricultural lands. This is not an issue that comes down to whether elephants kill people or people kill elephants — it’s about finding a viable solution where elephants can live in harmony with people in the future,” said Dr Pinsak Suraswadi, Deputy Director-General of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
We have to join coalitions with the local authorities, communities and villagers and governments to ensure that humans and elephants can co-exist peacefully.
“This (protecting the elephants) needs to be a movement, not just a project we are doing,” Dr. Christy Williams concluded.
Quotes from WWF-Myanmar country director Christy Williams are adapted from the video “Meet Myanmar’s Elephant Whisperer“.
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