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A New Danger in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

October 26, 2018

Kanchanaburi, Thailand is often recognized as the home of the “Bridge Over the River Kwai” that related to the Japanese occupation of Thailand during the World War II. Massive numbers of Allied prisoners of war succumbed to horrific conditions in the jungle to create a rail link with Burma which was called “The Death Railway.” It was certainly not a safe place at that point in time.

Moreover, in the late sixties and early seventies it remained very wild and wooly with opium smugglers and ethnic guerrilla armies. The author experienced intervals of that period under the watchful eye of Colonel Chang of the Thai Communist Suppression Organization. For those of you who do not speak Thai, “chang” means elephant which implies strength and was therefore Colonel Chang’s mantra to youngsters like the author at that time - “We must be strong.”

To fast-forward to modern times, areas of Kanchanaburi have been declared disaster zones following repeated attacks by wild elephants or “chang.” Residents have recently been injured by the attacks from as many as seventy wild elephants in the area with one fatality reported. As the image below was taken in a rubber plantation, the planters were not trying to protect a more fragile crop.

On the other hand, large numbers of elephants can destroy planted forage crops in short order.

As a consequence, some of the residents have joined with local officials in an attempt to keep the elephants from entering their fields.

The wild elephant population of Thailand has declined to some 2,700 elephants from a peak of 100,000 in 1850 according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. However, deforestation and habitat loss have brought them in closer contact with villagers causing fatalities when the farmers try to protect their crops.

Occasionally, rogue elephants are subdued with tranquilizer darts and returned to the game preserve. On the other hand, we know elephants have incredible memories and once they have tasted exotic foods such as pineapple and bananas it is very difficult to keep them on the reservation.

Although the Thai people have a reverence for elephants unlike anywhere else, the continued loss of natural elephant habitats by population growth encroachment will only exacerbate this situation going forward. Therefore, the future can only result in both human and elephant loss of life.

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