Wild elephant numbers rising, major rhino horn seizure (Thailand)


Royal Thai Embassy

Date Published

One week after seizing over 400 pounds of smuggled African elephant
tusks at Bangkok’s international airport, Thai Customs officials
confiscated over 100 pounds of African rhino horns. Meanwhile,
conservationists announced that the Kingdom’s wild elephant population
had increased by about 10 percent in recent years.

Officials have observed a “steep rise” in the wild elephant
populations in the western Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary and
the eastern Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex, said Adisorn
Noochdumr, deputy director-general of the National Park, Wildlife and
Plant Conservation Department. He made the announcement on Thai
Elephant Day, which the nation marks every March 13.

“This is the outstanding outcome of our efforts to protect the forest
ecosystem and preserve the wild elephants, since we have worked on
reintroducing wild elephants into the forest and building food sources
for elephants,” Adisorn said.

More than a century ago, an estimated 100,000 elephants roamed the
Thai countryside. But the spread of human populations, agriculture and
industry has eaten away at their natural habitat and caused their
numbers to drastically decline. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center
believes there are only 2,000 to 3,000 elephants left in the wild in
the Kingdom.

Thai success in turning the situation around, however, comes with its
own challenges. As the elephant population expands, the pachyderms are
more likely to wander out of the sanctuaries in search of food,
bringing them into conflict with farmers and other humans.

Adisorn said his department is educating farmers and villagers about
how to handle the problem using tactics that will protect their crops
but not harm the elephants.

“We have tried a new method to chase away the elephants that invade
people’s farmland by raising honey bees on the fences between forest
and farmland, and it has proven to be very effective. When the
elephants try to cross the fence, the bees will attack them and they
will learn not to disturb the bees again,” he said.

The farmers also benefit financially by harvesting and selling the
honey from the bees.

Meanwhile, Customs officials at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in
Bangkok uncovered 21 rhino horns worth an estimated $5 million that
were smuggled in on a flight from Ethiopia.

“It’s the biggest confiscation of rhino horns in 10 years,” said
Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of Thailand’s Wild Fauna and Flora
Protection division.

Freeland, a wildlife protection activist group, praised Thailand for
going after allegedly corrupt officials suspected of involvement in
the smuggling ring.

“It is rare to see governments target corruption,” said Steven
Galster, Director of Freeland, “but wildlife poaching and trafficking
on the huge scale we are seeing, especially with rhinos, cannot happen
without the help of well-placed corrupt officers. We applaud the
leadership of Thai Customs, the police and Attorney General for taking
this courageous and important move by investigating the possible
corrupt links behind this scheme.”

Less than 30,000 rhinos are still left in the wild in Africa, their homeland.