|Elephants in Phuket|
Elephants in Phuket and southern Southern Thailand
What to see a wild elephant while on holidays in Phuket?
Forget it, and be satisfied with the many domesticated ones here. You are about 70 years too late for wild ones, the last of which were killed on Phuket island Island early last century. The killing of elephants has continued all over Thailand right up till now, with the occasional wild elephant still being shot or poisoned by farmers when the great beasts sometimes raid their crops.
This happens despite that Thailand is being a country which has revered the elephant for centuries. Today there are few left in the wild here. But there are about 3,000 domestic ones roaming the country, mostly forlorn and often begging for food.
In the past elephants filled many important roles in Thailand; as tanks of war, transport, logging tractors and ceremonial animals among them. Their last major role was in logging, where the elephant hauled the cut logs from forest to road. But when Thailand banned all logging of its forests about ten years ago thousands of domestic elephants were thrown into unemployment. One result is elephants wandering Thailand’s cities and towns with the mahouts (elephant drivers) selling ivory trinkets and begging for a living. Another is a huge influx of elephants into Phuket and other tourist areas where they make their living by taking tourists on forest treks. Every time you take an elephant ride you are helping to keep one of the delightful beasts employed.
But not all owners or mahouts take good care of their animals. So please, if choosing an elephant trekking outfit, look for one in which the elephants appear to be well treated. For example, the beast should not appear too thin and should not be chained out in the hot sun. A project called Elephant Help was set up a few years ago, and its volunteers raise money and offer medical treatment to needy elephants. Please make a donation to this organization if you have the opportunity.
The closest wild elephants to Phuket are found in Khao Sok National Park, about 3 hours drive north of Phuket. Here rugged mountains protect the last extensive stretch of uncut rainforest in southern Thailand. But chances of spotting the shy animals are very remote.
The future of the Asian elephant is a matter of serious concern, with its total extinction now a real possibility, something that creeps closer each year. While there are some thousands left in the wilds of Southeast Asia and India, these populations are still shrinking as their natural forest habitat is cut and cultivated. Equally dangerous is the geographic separation of the many small pockets of themelephants. Separated by human civilisation, the groups can no longer follow their natural migration routes to mix and interbreed, leaving each group to inbreed and stagnate genetically.
So while on in Phuket take notice of them and help an elephant by taking a ride. If you also take along some extra bananas or other fruit you will help the animals’ diet, and the elephant will surely love you for it.