Jumbo issues for concern

A new regulation allowing the export of elephants and elephant-related products initiated by the Foreign Trade Department has triggered public concerns, which is understandable. It's a good thing that the department has quickly clarified the matter.

The agency said this new rule is to facilitate research work and promote diplomatic ties, dismissing fears that commercial matters are involved.

Also, elephants to be included in such a programme must be properly registered domestic jumbos, not those from the wild. With this clarification, the rule appears to be sound. However, some conservationists have kicked off a campaign to have it scrapped.

Adul Chotinisakorn, chief of the Foreign Trade Department, said the regulation will only remain in force until a new bill is passed into law, but until then the export of elephants and related products will have to comply with conditions and requirements yet to be issued by the Department of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. The conditions and requirements, he said, are to make sure that the regulation does not violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Even though the rule seems acceptable, concerns remain about its implementation. Many still remember a major scandal when 100 tigers were exported to a Chinese zoo in 2003 in what was supposed to be a government-to-government study and exchange programme, the validity of which was later challenged. Several officials including then forestry chief Plodprasop Suraswadi were investigated but later let off the hook by the Criminal Court. The Office of the Attorney-General decided not to pursue the case.

This provides evidence that people are worried about loopholes in the new elephant rule. In addition, it's well aware that the current state of domestic and wild elephants requires more serious attention and stringent conservation by the state.

This is because, while the pachyderm is the national symbol, the state really has no concrete policy on the animals. Domestic elephants often face the problem of "joblessness" as the places where they can "perform" are limited.

Those in the wild increasingly face confrontations with humans as their habitats shrink due to the expansion of human settlements and plantations as well as infrastructure projects in several provinces. Hotspots include areas near Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary in Bung Kan province; Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary in Loei province; and Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary in the so-called forest complex linking five provinces, namely Chachoengsao, Sa Kaeo, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Chon Buri.

The increase in the elephant population, at 7-10%, while good news, means there is a pressing demand for larger habitat areas, which is not possible at this time.

Elephant and human confrontations often lead to loss of life and property damage and there is frustration on both sides. A report released this year on Elephant Day on March 13, said at least five elephants were injured since last year when they stepped on cruel hunting devices planted by villagers to prevent them rampaging through their crops.

What is needed are concrete measures, not just a meaningless conservation campaign, so that well-being for the animals that are the symbol of the nation can actually materialise.

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