The elephant in the room: a Thai village’s unwelcome guests – photo essay | Global development

It was round midnight when Kittichai Boodchan heard two loud crashes coming from in entrance of his residence. He knew instantly what was taking place. An elephant was exterior, and it needed the household’s stash of bananas.

Boonchuay, a native bull from the close by Kaeng Krachan nationwide park infamous for his behavior of raiding the village in search of snacks, had come to name. Kittichai had earlier purchased 200kg of bananas to promote and, though saved inside, the candy scent had undoubtedly piqued Boonchuay’s curiosity.

Kittichai leapt off the bed and commenced slamming the door and shouting to attempt to scare the elephant away. Boonchuay, undeterred, continued to ram his head into the wall, cracking by the construction. He stopped solely after about 10 or quarter-hour, when, unable to succeed in the recent fruit, he sauntered off down the highway.

That go to, in June final yr, was the first of many for Kittichai’s household. Since then, Boonchuay has returned a number of instances, coming into their residence and breaking elements of the wall. Throughout his most up-to-date break-ins, in June and July this yr, he managed to barge his head into the kitchen, pinching plastic baggage, cooking oil, prompt noodles and flour.


“I’m unsure I’ve the proper to be indignant at them as a result of we stole their house,” says Kittichai. “They lived right here earlier than.” Beside him, a pole reveals recent earth marks left by an elephant’s trunk. The elephants move by each few days, he says.

Throughout Thailand, and Asia, people have more and more expanded into forest areas, fragmenting elephants’ conventional habitats, and sometimes disrupting their entry to assets. For communities in these areas, coexisting is a delicate and harmful wrestle. Battle between animals and other people might be financially devastating for people, distressing and, at worst, lethal for each species. In Thailand final yr, eight elephants and eight individuals had been killed in battle, in response to Bhichet Noonto, a specialist in the topic at the Human Elephant Voices community.

Researchers warn that the competitors for assets will intensify. “In Thailand the forest areas are nonetheless reducing, and we now have many, many initiatives that attempt to make developments inside the forest,” says Bhichet, including that in 1933, 43% of Thailand was forested; by 2019 this had fallen to only underneath 32% of the nation.

Kittichai’s village, Chalermkiat Pattana, near Kaeng Krachan nationwide park, is one among many on the frontline of the wrestle to coexist. Indicators exterior a native homestay warn guests to not go away fruit in their automobiles. Residents, together with Kittichai, have put wires strung with cans up exterior their properties as a rudimentary alarm to warn of break-ins. Park rangers patrol the essential highway that results in the village each night, utilizing a truck to steer elephants – often both Boonchuay or one other male, Boonmee – again into the forest.

Boonchuay breaks into Kittichai Boodchan’s house
Boonchuay breaks into Kittichai Boodchan’s house
Repairs to Kittichai Boodchan’s house
Repairs to Kittichai Boodchan’s house

Kittichai, like many in the village, is now accustomed to being woken up each couple of nights by the elephants, or by the sound of different residents making an attempt to scare them away. “As soon as an elephant enters [your home] it’s a must to do every little thing you may to push them out,” he says.

Many residents have tales of Boonchuay and Boonmee’s escapades. Restaurant proprietor Nongyao Kaewsulesai describes how one among the elephants raided her kitchen cabinet and made off with a 25kg bag of sugar. “They like sugar, noodle packets, and if in case you have papaya they are going to eat all of it,” she says. Each night time she strikes containers of crisps into the again room as a precaution. Her fridge has been knocked over a number of instances by the elephants.

Nongyao Kaewsulesai prepares food in her restaurant, which has been raided by elephants on several occasions.

“I really feel like I’m a safety guard,” says Supa Taengthong, who sells fried banana and lives down the highway. Throughout a number of visits this yr an elephant – she isn’t positive which one – managed to interrupt by two partitions, passing by the dwelling space and the kids’s bed room to the kitchen at the again of the home.

“The elephant ate every little thing, not solely bananas, however the rice – the cooked rice in the rice cooker, the raw rice – the sugar, every little thing,” she says. The authorities helped her rebuild the entrance wall of the home, however the inside continues to be broken and she or he has not acquired compensation for the meals that was stolen.

Elephants hopping over the fences to get to farmers’ fields
Elephants on a monitoring camera approaching a fence
The elephants display a range of fence-hopping techniques
The elephants display a range of fence-hopping techniques
The elephants display a range of fence-hopping techniques

Supa has lived in the village for 20 years, however says it is just in the previous three years that the elephants have turn out to be a drawback. “I need the two of them to be moved out of this space. It’s solely these two which can be the drawback,” she says.

Merely eradicating them, although, may make issues worse – they could get replaced by one other, extra aggressive elephant, and even a herd. “Perhaps the enemy of the enemy is a good friend,” says Itthipol Thaikamol, head of Kaeng Krachan nationwide park.

He believes there’s ample meals in the park for the elephants. “We additionally planted a lot of meals and make a lot of salt lick. However typically, particularly in the dry season, it may be more durable for the elephants,” says Itthipol. Additionally it is most likely the case, he provides, that durian and jackfruit style a lot higher than grass.

Supa Taengthong sits outside her home, the walls of which have been knocked down by wild elephants on numerous occasions

For farmers, the elephant raids can show expensive. The worst native case Thongbai Charoendong is conscious of price 150,000 baht (£3,400) in misplaced fruit. Thongbai, pictured under, is a venture coordinator for human elephant battle monitoring and mitigation at Wildlife Conservation Society Thailand, and has labored in the space for 17 years. “In a single night time six elephants raided a pineapple farm and ate every little thing,” he says.

Hungry elephants even have an costly behavior of knocking over durian timber, farmers report, presumably to allow them to attain all the greatest fruit.

Thongbai Charoendong, a coordinator at the World Conservation Society’s Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Project.

There are numerous theories as to why the elephants are more and more invading Chalermkiat Pattana village – which was established as a royal venture in 1977 – and straying on to close by farms. Some query if the opening of a close by pineapple canning manufacturing facility, which prompted extra native farmers to develop the fruit, might need lured the elephants out of their typical habitat. Others say that individuals used to go away leftover pineapple in the forest and that this might need led elephants to lose their concern of people. As soon as elephants had explored additional, it is usually doable that they developed a style for human meals and crops.

In keeping with Bhichet, analysis means that the encroachment of forest areas, the development of close by farms with excessive diet meals, and the risk that male elephants, for evolutionary causes, are more and more prepared to take extra dangers to get at these meals, are all probably elements.

“Now in Thailand we see this phenomenon in many locations. Many male elephants simply transfer additional than in the previous,” he says. “I feel they modified their habits to eat extra human meals.” This behaviour additionally appears to be extending throughout the elephant household, he provides, and the journeys they take have gotten much less predictable. He cites the instance of a herd in China that travelled for 15 months, removed from their pure habitat, as a extra excessive instance of this pattern.

A makeshift protective barrier made from wire and beer cans hangs as a deterrent to wild elephants.
Ping-pong bombs, which are used by locals and park rangers to scare off wild elephants.
A trench and fencing, intended to deter wild elephants.
Signs warning tourists and locals not to feed the elephants have been placed along a street on which the animals often roam.

  • Techniques for scaring off the elephants and lowering raids embrace (clockwise from high left) noise-making wires, ping pong ‘bombs’, warnings to not feed the elephants; and trenches with fencing. Images: Jack Taylor/The Guardian

Any options must empower individuals and educate communities in order that they higher perceive elephants, says Bhichet. Compensation or funding for individuals to adapt, or higher defend their properties, may even assist. “Many individuals wish to change livelihoods however they haven’t any cash. They wish to change from mono-crop to natural vegetation, however they haven’t any confidence that they’ve a good market to promote the product,” he says.

Close to to Kaeng Krachan nationwide park, communities have experimented with varied methods of deterring the elephants – from setting off firecrackers to leaving sheets rubbed with chilli oil in the fields, constructing fences and digging ditches.

Thongbai says that fencing has been the best measure for lowering the raids on crops. A semi-permanent fence, which nonetheless permits small animals to move, is being strengthened by tamarind timber in some areas, which is able to kind a pure barrier. It must be deliberate fastidiously to keep away from unintended penalties, resembling reducing off entry to water, he provides. “It positively helps as a result of the incidents have been diminished,” says Thongbai, although he admits that it received’t cease the most inquisitive elephants.

Again alongside the essential highway that results in Chalermkiat Pattana, the park rangers drive round in search of indicators of Boonchuay. “He’s the star of this highway,” jokes one among the rangers, Sangat Jamjaeng, from the high of the truck. They usually shout at the elephant to get again in the forest, and he’ll faux to conform, Sangat says. “Then when the truck passes he’ll come out once more.”

A wild elephant known locally as Boonchuay approaches traffic.

Boonchuay seems on the essential highway, blocking automobiles. “Get again in the forest,” the rangers shout. They throw a firecracker, however Boonchuay doesn’t even flinch. He’s refusing to obey. Darkness begins to fall, and a gray shadow might be seen lurking amongst the timber at the facet of the highway. They shine a shiny gentle in his path. Branches sway and rustle. Ultimately he appears to have retreated from the highway and the truck drives on.

Minutes later, a motorcyclist rides previous: the elephants are again, they warn. The patrol truck turns spherical and makes its method again up the highway. By the time they arrive, all that’s left is a pile of elephant dung.

Discover extra age of extinction protection right here, and comply with biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the newest information and options

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