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Elephants Have Sensitive Skin

September 06, 2019

The typical image of an elephant is a massive body draped in thick-skinned armor. In the dark days, cowboy bootmakers would make elephant hide boots to sell to big game hunters which is an abhorrent thing to consider in today's world. Elephant skin is thick but very sensitive to elephants. In 2015, the King's Cup Elephant Polo tournament was played on a horse polo field near the Suvarnabhumi Airport some 20 miles east of downtown Bangkok. There were two things that were unfortunate about the venue and the timing -- the tournament was held during the Thai monsoon season and the name Suvarnabhumi means "cobra swamp." One can readily envision what happened.

The elephants were camped in an area that was riddled with mosquitoes which greatly impacted the comfort of the elephants and their mahout owners camped on the polo grounds. Rain and slippery fields were sufficiently challenging but the elephants would occasionally drop to the ground to scratch the mosquito bites on their stomachs. Mosquitos seem to go after the low hanging fruit. You can only imagine the impact of an elephant hitting the deck on the more fragile folks on their backs. Fortunately, Naam Fon, the elephant, and Lung Ham, the mahout, shown below were experts regarding life in the jungle.

In the past, we have commented on the increasing difficulties facing wild elephant habitats to preclude human/elephant conflict situations. As farmers claim adjacent land and plant their crops, the tasty food is too tempting for either migrating or nearby hungry elephants to ignore. Beehives have proven effective in serving as an elephant barrier though it is difficult to surround an entire forested preserve with beehives. Some time back the Thai Parliament did enact a subsidized insurance scheme to take some of the "sting" out of the farmers' income losses as a result of elephant crop damage. By the way, elephants react in the same manner to drones and helicopters as they do to bees. There are a number of elephant polo players who can attest to the fact that an elephant mount goes schizophrenic when either approach from above. Can you imagine elephants returning to warfare engagement like ancient times but as drone and helicopter early warning systems?

Recently, The Bangkok Post published an article entitled Bamboo Fences to Bring Human-Elephant Harmony to Khao Yai. "SHAZAM" is "thorny bamboo," a local species in Khao Yai National Park, which may serve as a natural barrier to create a harmless and easily maintained fence to keep elephants on their home turf. A previous Thai Government approved the construction of a paved highway through the Khao Yai National Park. The impact of that ill-conceived highway construction can be seen in the video referenced at the conclusion of this blog. This bull elephant is not pleased by the encroachment of the jeep interloper into his domain.

The fencing solution is shown in the hands of these young, enthusiastic students carrying the thorny bamboo plants to be placed around the national park. Due to the rising number of conflicts, the Thai Department of National Parks has developed a containment system based upon planting thorny bamboo fences around the park.

Bamboo fences represent a harmless barrier to elephants and are easy to maintain as they grow wild in the park. Accordingly, the initial planting will focus on the 240-mile highway through and around the park. To date, 24 miles of thorny bamboo have been planted. Sadly, it takes five years before the fencing is effective and the park encompasses 837 square miles. It is an important endeavor as the Khao Yai National Park is home to some 300 elephants which is roughly the same number of domesticated elephants supported by The Elephant Story and The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Baan Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand. However, domesticated elephants are a bit more well-behaved than those in the wild. The thorny bush is shown below which actually looks a bit more intimidating when mature.

It is a serious endeavor, as in the last ten years, seventeen villages in Thailand have been invaded by elephants with thirteen elephants being killed. On a different plane, it speaks to the amount of time needed to correct the environmental failings of man. Without a doubt, the road through the Khao Yai National Park was thought to be economically justified to link a housing resort-condominium development on one side with Bangkok via a road construction through a national elephant preserve. Moreover, it was clearly to the financial benefit of those involved in the governmental approval process. You can hear the 1,000 Thai Baht (US $33) notes rifting through the currency counting machine. It is much like a Chinese gold shop but this one deals in the lives of magnificent creatures.  

Therefore, how many years ago should we have focused attention on climate change and carbon emission correction-a long, long time ago though Greenland may become more inhabitable by the day? If you can imagine the thorny bush/elephant conservation timeline, put it in the context of trying to save the planet we all inhabit?

The Elephant Story 026: Elephants vs Khao Yai Traffic
The Elephant Story 026: Elephants vs Khao Yai Traffic

Bring the stories to life when pairing our adorable elephant hand puppets with one of our elephant-themed children's books.
The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey
Hand Puppet
Small Elephant's Bathtime
Nawin Saves the Elephants
Elephant Sleeve Puppet
The Elephants' Ears
Do You Really Want to Meet an Elephant?
Finger Puppet

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