It is a symbol of tradition, history, royal, fortune and superstition. According to Buddhist legend, Queen Maya of Sakya, Lord Buddha’s mother, was dreamed that a divine Bodhisattva on white elephant touched her side. Later she became pregnant. This is why elephants are place in high esteem and reverence to Thai people, and white elephants are representing as high dignity and majesty. Therefore, the white elephant was a national emblem on Siam’s national flag. Moreover, the elephants are on Thai’s stamps, Navy flag, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, coins, architectures, Buddhist art, temples and many more.
The country annually celebrates the 13th of March as Elephant Day. In general, elephants are the largest land animal that exists now. They are great in size with enormous strength, intelligent, and gentle creature. Elephants are highly socialized animals. They live in forests, grassland and scrub with their family herds and friends. The life p of elephants is closely equal to human beings, approximately 70-100 years. The elephant’s gestation period is between 18 to 22 months. Elephants become sexually mature at the age of 16 as their early teens. A mature male elephant of age 20 is usually stay in pairs or a group of three.
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There is a hierarchy in elephant, the dominant adult male elephant with experience and strength is established and gain respect from their younger elephants in the group. The older female with years of accumulated knowledge is respected by the female members. The prime life of elephants that reach the peak of their physical power is between the ages of 25-40. They begin to slow down after the age of 40 and set in approximately at the age of 55. They normally live for 80 years or more. Elephants are herbivorous. They enjoy a variety of vegetation like bamboo, grasses, trees, plant leaves and fruits.
A mature elephant can consume up to 200-300 kilograms of food and 60 gallons of water a day. Elephants are the kind of animal that love affection and attention. They have a gentle hearts and value friendship. Thai elephants have shared history with Thai people in traditional and cultural ways since the days of old Siam. Historically, elephants were people main transportation, labor and warfare. Based on historical recorded, elephants are supreme importance in the battlefield. The most renowned elephant war was 300 years ago between Thai and Burma.
They were used as the main source of army with fully plate amours. In elephant dual, commanders would sit on elephants’ backs and combat adversaries. In the battlefield of the late 17th century, there were as many of 20,000 war elephants in Siam’s army. There were four renowned war elephant in Thai’s history as follows: the battle between King Ramkhamhaeng and Khun Sam Chon during Sukhothai era, Chao Aye Phraya and Chao Yee Phraya in early Ayuthaya era, Queen Srisuriyothai and Pharachao Prae, a Burmese commander in Ayuthaya Era, and King Naresuan and the Burmese Crown Prince in Ayuthaya Era.
Recently, the films called ‘Srisuriyothai’ and “King Naresuan” were made. War elephants were included as an important part of the movies. The importance of Thai elephants is not only for the used in battlefields. Elephants are also the prestige animals to Thai’s Kings, specifically white elephants. A white elephant is a symbol of royal power. It features King’s power and monarch by numbers. It is believed that the more white elephants held to the King, the more King’s power in the adversaries. However, a white elephant is rare and is registered as the private property of reigning Monarch when they once found.
It represents auspicious and the king’s prestige. White elephants are known as Royal elephants. It is noted that H. M. King Bhumibol also has stables of white elephants. The white elephant was also featured in the Siam national flag until the country had changed the name to Thailand. In the old days when the nation was not occupied with wars, elephants became the use of beast of burden. With their great size, enormous power and talent, elephants were capable as best carrier for heavy matters and human’s transportation.
Not long ago, elephants are used for the forest work where machines are not determined as best equipments. The labor of elephants is preferred as they would not devastate even small crops. In fact, they were required years of training start from the age of 4 and were trained by two mahouts for about twenty years, and then put to work in the timber industry. Working elephants have a career of about 50 years and then set free as their retirement at the age of 61. Their daily tasks were the extraction of heavy teak logs, haul logs, carrier and mountaineer.
The working elephant is capable of lifting up 700 kilograms of log with tusks and dragging the load of 1. 5 tons. Elephants have work schedule and future career just like we do. Due to the ban of logging industries from Thai’s government in 1989, the elephants’ situation came to the downside. Thousands of them were thrown out of work. Moreover, the deforestation and the decrease of forest surface due to the big increase in human population affected the habitat loss of elephants. Many elephants died from starvation. The number of poaching for elephants’ body was also increasing continually.
The above causation led to the dramatic drop in numbers of elephants in Thailand over the past hundred years. In the early 20th century, there were the numbers of approximately 300,000 elephants compare to the numbers of approximately 3,000 elephants that extinct today. Thai elephants are in the severest situation. Nowadays, several projects and conservation are constituted to preserve wild life elephants. The project of bring elephants home is to support elephants in Thailand as well as their mahouts and families who depend mostly on elephants for survival.
These organizations are trying to gather as many numbers of elephants in the area, training them, and recruiting them new jobs. Elephants are reemployed mainly for tourist’s entertainment. The elephant show is what they are currently doing in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and the Khao Yai National Park for example. Elephants will be train to entertain tourists. Thanks for their innate intelligence, elephants can do various kinds of sports and games such as drawing picture, playing football, dancing, racing, trekking, logging, and caravan.
They love games and music. The elephant show attracts great numbers of visitors from Thai and foreign countries. However, there are some elephants sent to the forest and mountain to learn how to work. No matter how elephants have always been loved to Thai people, there are numbers of elephants have been sent abroad recently. According to news, Thai government had export 8 elephants to China. Another eight elephants were export to Australian zoos in 2006. It is claimed that elephants were sent for research and development purpose.
Australia bought 8 elephants for a breeding program of endangered species. However, there were controversy and protest from animal rights activists before the elephants’ journey to new home. Last year, one of the eight elephants gave birth to a new male baby born elephant at Sydney’s Taronga zoo. And there are two female elephants on gestation. The shrinkage of forest areas in Thailand seems to be initial problems to the current situation of Thai elephants. 70 percent of the forest areas disappeared in less than a century. Even though, logging was banned in 1989. There is still ongoing illegal logging.
The forest devastation affects elephants’ habitat and inadequate food for survival. Daily high consumption of elephants threatened the owner and themselves. This situation leads the problem of elephants roaming in the city street for money by their owners. Nevertheless, there are more problems that threaten the numbers of elephants and put elephants in endangered species. Illegal poaching for elephants’ live capture, tusks, calves, ivories, meat and other part of the body for trade and medical use are definitely severe threats as it can also distort sex ratios in the population and affect reproduction.
Moreover, there is the conflict issue between human and elephants on the protected areas. When human population have been increasing, forest areas have been destruction for farms, settlements, and other facilities to serve human needs. Starved elephants enter the new protected areas that used to be their forests and hunt for food on human’s crops and other agricultural plants. They cause damage to human’s properties. Later, human try to protect their farmlands from the invaded elephants. Sadly, the protection is resulting in elephant’s capture, poison, electrocution and shooting.
There are many research and report done by conservationists to reduce the impact and mainly to preserve the giant living creature from the soon extinct. Currently, Wild elephants in Thailand are on the protected species under the Protection of Wildlife Conservation Act 1992. But it doesn’t seem to be enough action according to the reducing numbers of elephants. The population of wild elephants is decreasing continually whereas the population of domesticated elephants is increasing. Therefore, wild elephants should be put on endangered species list. This is to protect them from poaching and commercial purpose.
Same as domesticated elephants that are currently under the Beast of Burden Act, they should be considering remove from the Beast of Burden Act and replace with the Protection of Wildlife Conservation Act 1992. Restriction of the ownership transfer should be considering as well. It can protect future trading. Regular elephants’ Medicare, food and veterinary are necessary and need to be provide by government or organizations to solve the loss problem. It is because the nurture cost for elephants is relatively high and most elephants’ owners are poor, then they could not afford the high cost.
It is time to put elephant’s monitoring in systematic. The record of birth, transfer, breeding and death should be strictly report to keep the most accuracy track on elephants’ situation. The one widely seen problem of elephants is the mahout’s roaming elephants on the city street. It should be strictly ban to protect elephants from sickness and accident. Also, Mahouts should be provided with appropriate jobs, therefore they would not bring elephants to the city street. New elephants’ habitat is important and need to be processed in suitable areas.
It is suggested by Thai Elephant Research and Conservation Funds, TERF, that Thai need new elephant law. The law should be in serious condition and long term conservation for both wild and domesticated elephants. At present, wild elephants in Thailand are protected under national law and the CITES treaty which involve the prohibition of ivory trade. It is obvious that Thailand’s long national emblem of power and peace is in severe condition. The modernization of the country that replaces the old traditional way of living may favor Thai people in 20th centuries.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the same favor given to elephants. The awakening is needed to preserve the living magnificent and generous animal of the country’s liberated heroes from the extinction. How Thai can be proud with the loss of national emblem. Next generations of the next would not delight to see their unsung hero through the historical text books or elsewhere. Elephants, friends of ours, need abruptly attention and great concerned. Elephant is to Thailand and Thailand needs elephants. It is not only for the history, but it’s for the future of the nations and eternity.
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