Wildlife officials have launched a project to put tracking collars on elephants in a bid to reduce the risk of conflict with local villagers and farmers near a restricted forest area in eastern Thailand.

Dr Pinsak Suraswadi, deputy head of the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation, presided last week over the launch of an exercise to put collars on three elephants in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary in Chachoengsao district.

The first three collars were imported from South Africa with help from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and a global network of researchers linked to the Institute of Science and Conservation, including the Smithsonian Museum in the United States.

Collared elephant

An elephant waits patiently while a satellite collar is fitted around his neck in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, east of Bangkok. Photo: WWF

The project aims to study the movement of elephants in order to try to stop them coming into conflict with human populations, especially in areas designated for development and agriculture.

The area where the elephants were collared, east of Bangkok, is designated as a “red” area, indicating it has seen a lot of human-elephant conflict.

It is a region where marauding elephants have been known to swarm around and ‘hijack’ trucks carrying fruit they like to eat, such as pineapples. It is also close to forest areas where thousands of poachers have been arrested for poaching rare wildlife or timber.

tracking collar

A Thai wildlife official holds a tracking collar last week before it was fitted to an elephant in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo: WWF

Data collected from the satellite-tracking collars on the elephants will help conservationists and local communities anticipate the elephants’ movements and plan interventions to address conflict issues.

“These collars will be used to study the migratory movements of these elephants so as to resolve the issue of elephants coming in and destroying the agricultural lands. This is not an issue that comes down to whether elephants kill people or people kill elephants – it’s about finding a viable solution where elephants can live in harmony with people in the future,” Dr Pinsak said.

Tuskers cross road

A herd of elephants cross a road in eastern Thailand. Photo: WWF

Yowalak Thiarachow, country director of WWF Thailand, said: “WWF has a model in how to deal with human-elephant conflict around the world that has been successful. In the case of Thai wild elephants, which is a challenge for conservation in Thailand, WWF and the Department of National Parks have commenced their research work to reduce human-elephant conflict from happening in the future.”

GPS and satellite communication technology are being used to track elephants in other countries such as Malaysia and parts of Africa to try to reduce conflict between elephants and humans.

tusker herd

A herd of tuskers is seen in the Eastern Forest region. Photo: WWF

tusker truck

An elephant walks beside a truck in eastern Thailand. This is an area where herds of marauding elephants have been known to ‘hijack’ trucks carrying fruit they like to eat, such as pineapples. Photo: WWF