There are two different species of elephant – the African (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian variety (Elephas maximus). The former is larger and there are a few distinct differences. The African species numbers are estimated at approximately 500,000 whilst the Asian variety has fallen to an disturbingly low estimated figure of below 30,000.
There are a number of elephant races within the Asian species. For instance the Indian elephant, is bigger, has longer front legs and a thinner body than their Thai counterparts. As the park deals exclusively with Thai elephants we will concern ourselves with this particular order. The facts are, however, generally applicable to all types of Asian Elephant.
Various authorities differ somewhat on exact details. Using our own experience and taking into account numerous sources we present you with our own interpretation. Elephants, like human beings, can and do vary in many characteristics, emotions and personality.
Asian Elephants – Existing Numbers
The Asian Elephant, still known to many as the Indian Elephant, is officially an endangered species. Present numbers have dropped to an alarmingly low level with estimates of under 30,000 left in the entire world. This disturbingly small number of survivors is epitomised by the fact that these gentle beast have been exterminated from large areas of their former habitat.
In Thailand there is an estimated 3,000-4,000 elephants. Around half of this number are domesticated, the remainder living wild in National Parks Reserves. Some 300 are suffer under appalling conditions in Bangkok.
It is notable that at the start of the 20th century (1900 AD) over 100,000 elephants graced the Siamese (Thai) countryside.
They are forced to walk on hot tarmac roads by gangs of elephant owners and beg for fruit and food. The owner of often buys the elephant purely to obtain begging money from sympathetic passers by. As he has scant experience with animal training, the hapless creature is cruelly treated and beaten as the rider becomes impatient. In the city the animal cannot possibly get the 200-300 kg of food and 100-200 litres of water necessary for it’s daily nourishment so it plods the hot polluted streets, thirsty hungry and confused. These animals quickly suffer from stress through polluted air, poor diet, dehydration, loneliness and their sensitive ears are soon damaged. Much of the fruit purchased from local sellers has been treated with chemicals and causes serious stomach problems and eventually death.
Other forms of, less apparent abuse come in the form of pet baby elephants featured at hotels and entertainment complexes. Although the animals may seem happy enough they are invariably fed the wrong diet, suffer from loneliness and boredom and will soon die. Many unwitting tourists, delighted at the sight of a “cute” baby elephant, are completely unaware that the lifespan of the creature is likely to be only a few years.
There are a number of important factors to consider but we will deal with the four main ones;
First and foremost is human encroachment in the domain of the elephant. With a fast growing population Asia does not have the land resources for both humans and the indigenous wildlife populations. There is not a government in the world that will sacrifice it’s voters in favour of mere animals.
Secondary is greed. Whilst it is inevitable that much land is set aside for growing human populations there are a number of influential persons seeking huge land areas for personal gain. Illegal logging and such environmentally detrimental pursuits lead to a reduction in grazing or browsing land for the animals.
Thirdly is poaching for ivory, skin or aphrodisiacs which the elephant is said to possess.
Fourthly: Sport. Unbelievably there are such deluded souls amongst us that actually think the killing a defenseless animal is sport. Wealthy patron’s of these games are willing to travel and pay handsomely for the sheer pleasure of “bagging” an elephant.
How our park is helping
Through the development of our park we are providing a haven for these animals. The birth of three baby elephants within a few months of opening was both a joy for everyone at the park and a great encouragement.
Remember: There are less than 30,000 of the species left in the world and under 4,000 in Thailand 20% of which are believed to live in Chiang Mai province.