With domesticated elephants in Cambodia decreasing drastically, a domesticated elephant protection group in Siem Reap province will set up a breeding centre to restore their numbers.
Oan Kiry of The Angkor Elephant Group Committee in Siem Reap city said his group had found a location with plenty of natural forests and a stream in Sotr Nikum district, south of Kulen Mountain.
They aim to end the use of elephants to carry tourists next year, he said.
“In early 2020, our association plans to end the use of elephants to transport tourists. They can still watch the elephants and take a photos of them in our conservation and breeding centre. We want the elephants to live in as natural a manner as possible,” he said.
There were 14 elephants in his group, two of which were male. They ranged from 30 to 60 years of age, he said.
Ten years ago, there were almost 200 domesticated elephants in Cambodia, but as they could not reproduce due to old age, with many dying through a lack of care and the food, that number has dropped to a mere 70.
“The elephants we have aged between 30 to 45 or even 50 years old can still breed. But elephant breeding is different from other animals as they are very shy creatures. They need to breed naturally away from prying eyes,” Kiry said.
He said the customs of ethnic Bunong or Kuoy people and some Cambodians who use domesticated elephants meant females are prevented from breeding as it brings bad luck to the village.
The practice needed to change as the number of elephants was decreasing as females died without procreating.
Wild Earth Allies Cambodia programme director Tuy Sereivathana voiced his support for the committee’s initiative to create a preservation centre and breed domestic elephants.
He said Cambodia should also establish more national parks to protect them. “In the culture and traditional customs of some Cambodian people, they live by domesticating elephants.
“A drop in the number of domesticated elephants means wild elephants are then domesticated to take their place. A decrease signals a worrying trend for further losses in the country if they are not properly protected."
“The establishment of national park areas for the protection of domesticated elephants is needed for them to breed naturally. It is a solution that could ensure the sustainability of the elephants and stop the illegal domestication of wild elephants,” Vathana said.
WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak said that wild elephant numbers had increased considerably along the Cardamom Mountains, in areas in the northeast and other protected areas throughout the country.
However, when compared to other countries in the region, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, the number of wild and domesticated elephants in Cambodia was low.
“Cambodia could restore its domestic and wild elephant numbers by establishing centres and national parks for domestic elephants to live and breed naturally in, as well as provide sanctuaries for the protection of wild elephants."
“People are prohibited from poaching and illegally domesticating wild elephants in Cambodia. The intrusion into elephant sanctuaries to expand agricultural land is also banned,” Teak said.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Monday said that there are around 70 domesticated elephants in the Kingdom.
Currently, it is estimated that there are over 500 wild elephants in Cambodia, with around 110 living in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and nearly 200 in the Cardamom Mountains, he said.
“According to studies, the number of wild elephants in Cambodia and other countries in Southeast Asia has declined over the past several decades due to illegal hunting, the destruction of habitats and conflict between elephants and people,” he said.
The government is working with relevant organisations to formulate strategies to protect and preserve elephants in Cambodia for future generations, he continued.
To effectively protect natural forest habitats of elephants, law enforcement needed to be strengthened to tackle illegal wildlife hunting and the use of snares.
Awareness among local farmers in protected forests needed to be raised regarding the use of chemicals on crops and the harming of elephants when they intruded on farmland, Pheaktra said.