Reintroducing tamed elephants into the wild

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The exorbitant prices of elephants in Thailand have tempted some people to catch elephants from the wild to be trained as domesticated pachyderms. Concerned agencies have joined hand in returning tamed elephants into the wild. 

A national park official in Phupan sent out a radio report after he was tipped off by villagers who spotted four wild elephants near Ban Na Kam Klang village in Phupan district in the northeastern province of Sakhon Nakhon. Officials were immediately dispatched to monitor the elephants’ whereabouts and daily activity.

Phupan National Park covers a vast area of 400,000 rai, or almost 160,000 acres, in Sakhon Nakhon and Kalasin provinces. Sadly enough, only one wild elephant has earlier existed in the national park. With the cooperation of Phupan National Park and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, six female domesticated elephants were returned to the forest in two ceremonial releases. Six years after they made the national park their permanent home, the only wild elephant and six new arrivals have lived harmoniously and frequently roamed in a herd.

Standing behind a big tree, we saw the elephants good-naturedly waved their ears.  The protective older elephants took care of six-year-old Nok Lae, the only young elephant in the herd. We were fully aware that we should not let playful Nok Lae come close to us, or older Bua Kaew will follow to protect her and may attack us.

“From our observation, 80 to 90 percent of them have become wild elephants. They would not allow staff from the Elephant Foundation to go near them. The pachyderms would hide themselves from those people,” said Paiboon Sornpimpor, Chief of the Phupan Protection Unit 5.

Monitoring the domesticated elephants that have been reintroduced into the forest, park officials delightedly found that they have been completely transformed as wild elephants and integrated with the wild elephant and the new environment. They do not approach people as they used to do and they are not fierce. Officials reassured that the herd of seven members will not be caught and smuggled out of the forest.

“Our Phupan National Park has been trying to return domesticated elephants to the wild. Nature will eventually teach them to be able to live in the forest,” said Wimol Ungprombundith, Chief of the Phupan National Park.

The success in reintroducing domesticated elephants into the wild cannot be sustainable without an understanding and cooperation of residents in communities surrounding the national park. They are, in fact, the major force in protecting wild animals and natural resources.