On Monday I read one of the most misleading articles I’ve seen in a long time. According to the Zoo News Digest, the reason they export elephants from Thailand is to help with overpopulation:

There are already too many elephants in some of the national parks. Space is at a premium. It is estimated that the Kang Ang Rue Nai national park can comfortably support a population of around 190 animals. Unfortunately the numbers there are now somewhere between 250 and 270 elephants. There is not enough space or food to go round.

Animals are now coming out of the forest and raiding the surrounding farms. A few more wiley groups are hijacking trucks loaded with sugarcane or cassava. The authorities have now prohibited nightime travel and use of the roads in the area to prevent elephant attack.

What is the solution? Contraception, culling, relocation. Whatever… this is an elephant sized problem which is not going to go away in a hurry.

Soraida Salwala, the founder of the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) Hospital and featured in The Eyes of Thailand documentary, is a well-known elephant advocate. I asked her to respond to the article and here is what she said:

I was quoted on Thai Rath Newspaper the other day about the wild elephants in AngLueNai Wildlife Sanctuary. Actually it was me who proposed the closure of Highway 3259 since 2-3 years ago during the night time and if possible, close it for good and use other roads instead. Returning the roads back to the real owners since the elephants roam there and they know their routes well.

I believe the impression they are feeding the public of having too many elephants is misleading. Wild elephants may be more in numbers at certain national parks or wildlife sanctuaries but they are wild. The ones they wish to export have to be the ones in captivity but the numbers are declining. Are they saying they want to export wild elephants??? That would be unacceptable, FAE is against Thai elephants export no matter where they are from.

The traders [who] wish to export come up with this grand idea without telling the truth where they capture the baby elephants or even adults or tuskers, they are taken from their families, from the herd. Forests are where they all belong even though we cannot put the ones in captivity back to the forests, not many of them can survive.

Pray for the elephants, pray for more kindness and compassion in the hearts of humankind.

Asian Elephants remain on the endangered species list and Thailand estimates that they have less than 5,000 Asian Elephants. Consequently, I find it hard to believe that there are “too many” elephants in Thailand. While I do not dismiss the concern of human-elephant conflict for resources, I cannot help but see the Zoo News Digest article as a poorly veiled call for more elephant exports to stock the world’s zoos. Unfortunately, because there is so much money to be made in elephant trade, this will increase the number of wild-caught elephants, usually babies ripped from their families so they never learn how to socialize or care for calves, which is partly why elephants kill their calves in zoos.

It’s a vicious cycle and one that we can avoid if we make it clear that we do not want to see elephants in zoos; we want to see them in their natural habitat or true sanctuaries.

-Windy Borman

Director/Producer, The Eyes of Thailand