The recent report of another person being killed by a wild elephant proves that the government needs to find a solution to this issue, or such incidents will only reoccur. So far, 16 people have been killed by wild elephants this year alone.
Human-elephant conflicts are a dilemma for the government and broader Thai society that has tried to protect and boost the population of this vulnerable animal.
The woman killed by the wild jumbo was working at a rubber farm in Nong Yai district, Chon Buri province, in the early morning of Saturday, according to a police investigation. Her death could be seen as a downside of successful conservation. Thanks to efforts — such as anti-poaching patrols — the number of forest elephants has increased markedly.
The elephant birth rate now stands at 8% in 16 forest areas and complexes across the country. The area with the highest wild elephant population is the eastern forest complex, where the birth rate exceeds 10%.
In a search for more food and water, wild elephants stray into farm communities, and confrontations can become deadly. Since 2012, elephants have killed 105 people and injured 133 more, according to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Meanwhile, 92 elephants have been killed and 46 injured.
The DNP has acknowledged the problems and has called on policymakers to provide policy and financial support.
Most of the popular measures the government favours is spending its budget on building fencing, which is costly and considered a not-so-inefficient solution given how elephants are smart enough to figure out how to get out, often ruining the fencing.
Another method has been to use volunteers to guard communities and drive elephants away.
Meanwhile, local administrations do not emulate sustainable solutions such as the Kui Buri food bank project. Such efforts require time, collaboration and plenty of space to develop food sources for wild animals. Under the successful Kui Buri food bank, local villagers profit from running small safari tours and sustainable tourism, but widespread adoption of such programmes is deemed impractical.
The conflict between elephants and humans is not limited to Thailand. While the global elephant population remains low and at risk of extinction, the few countries with high elephant birth rates face the dilemma of providing them with enough food, water and space.
An example is Zimbabwe in Africa, where the elephant birth rate has grown to 20%. Currently, the elephant population is around 100,000, while the carrying capacity is about 45,000. As a result, other wild animals and biodiversities have been affected.
The Thai government cannot drag its feet and let human-elephant conflicts get out of control. Using the same old methods, such as sending volunteers to shoo elephants away, is only a recipe for defeat.
Deputy PM and Environment Minister Pol Gen Phatcharavat Wongsuwan needs to act promptly and be smart.
Wild elephants need more than our love. They need well-informed conservation and sustainable land management to live peacefully with humans and in a changing environment.