A new study brings hope for reducing conflicts between elephants and farmers in Thailand
Guest post by Antoinette van de Water
Kaeng Hang Maeo district in Eastern Thailand is in an area of high human-elephant conflict. A herd of about 70–80 elephants lives between the protected areas and agricultural land, causing damage to crops almost on a nightly basis. Over four years ago, Bring The Elephant Home (BTEH) and the Phuluang Wildlife Research Station started a joint project to evaluate the effectiveness of beehive fences in deterring Asian elephants, under supervision of Dr. Lucy King. We set up a pilot beehive fence around a subsistence farm surrounded by elephant habitat and installed camera-traps to record the elephants’ reactions to the bees, which belong the species Apis mellifera, or European honeybee.
We sometimes forget how fortunate we are to be able to watch peaceful, calm, habituated elephants in Udawalawe. It’s easy to take for granted when they stand there, threshing their grass en masse, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to have a horde of humans gawking at them from a few meters away. This post may seem self-evident to a younger generation of wildlife watchers, who have grown up in a world packed to the breaking point with human beings and who realize that wilderness is an increasingly rare and precious thing. But it may challenge the thinking of some, particularly those of an older generation, for whom wilderness was a vast and ominous space teeming with dangerous things. For the latter, seeing wildlife might satisfy the need for a thrill in the same way as watching a frightening movie or visiting an amusement park – especially if that wildlife acts fierce and ferocious, such as charging elephant might do. This view still prevails among more than a handful of people today, who might think that seeing the “tame” elephants of some national parks is not as much fun as getting a much more “wild” experience in more secluded areas where the animals elicit more mutual terror.
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,  and their calves spotted at Teak Reservoir
Sometimes it’s easy to become so focused on elephants that I forget about the other fascinating creatures that share their habitat. This afternoon, we were watching , , and their calves at the edge of the Teak Reservoir when a large gaggle of tourist jeeps frightened them off.
We decided to stay put for a few minutes after the tourists left, in the hope that the elephants might return. No such luck, but our patience was rewarded with something else. Continue reading →
We’ve been on a roll this last week. Or maybe the elephants have. Either way, I’ve heard far more vocalizing in the past week than in both of my first two weeks combined, and have managed to record some of it as well. I hope for our luck to continue as we gather our equipment this morning and pile into the jeep.
Before long we see ’s group, and almost immediately hear a rumble. Unfortunately Kumara and I are still busy setting up the recording equipment, but I wait in the hopes of catching another call. As I watch the elephants, I notice that they seem unusually “touchy-feely” today, for lack of a better word. Continue reading →
A breathtaking expanse of bushes peppered with trees. That is my first impression of Uda Walawe National Park as we pass through the entrance gate in the early hours of the morning. The shrubs grow densely packed on either side of the ochre-colored road, like a vertically challenged forest. They are interspersed with teak saplings, a reminder of the days when this park was a timber plantation. Towering banyan trees soar above the surrounding vegetation, peacocks perched in their uppermost branches. In the distance, I can see the blue mountains and waterfalls of Nuwara Eliya, and above them, a steely sky striated with rain-laden clouds. A grey mongoose crosses the road ahead of us, stopping briefly to stare at our jeep before disappearing into the wall of greenery. Flocks of Common Mynas and Spotted Doves spring into the air as we rumble past.
Today there was hearing in the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee on the issue of “Ivory and global insecurity,” chaired by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). In attendance were Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado). Testimony was provided by Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants; Mr. Tom Cardamone, Managing Director of Global Financial Integrity; Mr. John Scanlon, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
This is a guest commentary by Katarzyna Nowak, co-director of the Udzungwa Elephant Project and lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. Continue reading →