Basic knowledge
about Elephants

   Elephants, the largest wild animals on land, are broadly classified into African elephants and Asian elephants, both of which live in groups of a few to a dozen animals. Elephants are herbivores, living on plant leaves, berries, tree bark and roots, and require about 10% of their body weight in food.

   They need about 10% of their body weight in food. Wild elephants scatter the seeds of the plants they eat along with their dung while moving through a large area. This behavior encourages vegetation in their living areas and enriches the habitat for wildlife. Wild elephants play an important role in protecting the natural environment.

   On the other hand, in Asia, the destruction of nature has progressed rapidly in the last half century due to the development of agricultural land and roads in line with economic development. According to WWF, the number of Asian elephants in the wild has been drastically reduced from about 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to about 50,000 today, and they are now listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Asian Elephant and Africa Elephant

Deforestation and Wild Elephants in Thailand

   In the 1940’s, Thailand’s forests covered more than 60% of the country’s land area, but in the 1980’s, they were reduced to less than 30%, and in 1989, the Thai government imposed a total ban on deforestation for commercial purposes, but in 1991, the forests had drastically decreased to 26.6% of the country’s land area. The deforestation has been accompanied by rapid economic development in Thailand, including the development of agricultural land and the building of roads in mountainous areas, which has resulted in droughts and floods, as well as the loss of homes and food for wildlife.

   On the other hand, Thailand has more than 200 designated national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and wildlife capture zones, covering a total area equivalent to 17% of the country. Thailand is said to be one of the countries in Southeast Asia with relatively good wildlife protection and management, but even so, 12% of the animals native to the region are in danger of extinction.

   The Asian elephant is one such animal, and it is estimated that there are about 2,000 wild elephants in Thailand today. However, due to the drastic decrease in forests and the creation of agricultural land in the protected area, clashes between elephants and their neighbors have become frequent, and the government is struggling to find a solution.

Disappearing Forests Map

Cartographer : Philippe Rekacewicz, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

Thailand’s captive elephants and their harsh conditions

   In Asia, elephants have been bred since ancient times as servant animals for humans with high learning ability. In the 300s B.C., during the eastern expedition of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, there are records of the Persian Empire and the Punjab Kingdom using elephants in battle. The relationship between elephants and people has a history of over 2000 years.

   In Thailand, wild Asian elephants have been captured and trained since the Sukhothai dynasty (1240-1438), and have been used for fighting and transporting timber. Throughout its long history with humans, the elephant has become a symbolic animal of Thailand, and the design of the elephant was used on the old national flag. Elephants are considered livestock under a law enacted in 1939, and elephant owners are now required to register their elephants in detail with the Department of Livestock Management.

  When deforestation was completely banned in 1989, unemployed elephants and their management trainers (“mahout” in Thai) began to work in the tourism industry. With the development of the tourism industry, the number of elephant camps (elephant tourism facilities) in the country has expanded from 22 in 1995 to 223 in 2018. Thailand is now the world’s eighth-largest tourist nation, and elephants have been a major contributor to its tourism income. However, elephants are often subjected to harsh training for entertainment shows and tourist rides, and the reality behind the scenes of tourism has become an international problem.

   In Thailand, under the Wildlife Protection Act enacted in 1992, wild elephants are protected under the jurisdiction of the national government. In Thailand, the Wildlife Protection Act enacted in 1992 protects wild elephants under the jurisdiction of the national government, but there is no law protecting elephants bred for tourism even though they are also Asian elephants, and the training and conservation management is left to the owners and elephant camp managers. Because business is involved, animal protection groups and the tourism industry have very different views on how elephant tourism should be conducted and what values should be placed on elephants, and the “tourist elephant” is in a complicated situation.

   Even more serious is the impact of the pandemic caused by COVID-19: the cost of feeding and health care of elephants, which require several hundred kilograms of food per day, has become an economic burden for elephant camp managers and elephant owners, and most of the country’s approximately 3,800 captive elephants are facing the danger of starvation and disease starting in 2020. With little public support, private conservation groups and others are working hard to support the elephants and their people.

WWF(World Wide Fund for Nature)