A local Elephant conservation organisation in Mondulkiri province has expressed concern about the declining domestic elephant population after a 53-year-old male pachyderm named Kham Khen died on Sunday from chronic abscess disease on his back.
“Since 2017, the number of domestic elephants in Mondulkiri decreased subsequently and so far the breeding of domestic elephants in Cambodia has not been successful,” said Khun Dlyon, director of the elephant conservation organisation Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment.
Dlyon said a survey carried out by his organisation found eight elephants to have died since 2017.
Five domestic elephants died in 2017. Three died of illness, another was shot by authorities when it charged villagers and another from Mondulkiri province died after falling into a pit in Snuol district in Kratie province.
Two more elephants died in 2018. One was sick and the other died as its owner didn’t provide food when it was in rut (displaying behaviour associated with the urge to breed).
There were 70 domestic elephants in Mondulkiri province 20 years ago, according to Dlyon. But indigenous peoples do not allow domestic elephants to breed. Ageing and disease have resulted in a series of deaths and only 38 elephants remain.
“After the death of Kham Khen, the number of domestic elephants in Mondulkiri has dropped to 37 and could lead to the extinction of elephants in that area if there is no protection and conservation, and if the villagers continue to adhere to the beliefs of their ancestors,” he said.
Mondulkiri provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak said not allowing domestic elephants to reproduce naturally would risk their extinction. He said the number of remaining domestic elephants is less than 40, and some of them are too old to breed.
“We are encouraging elephant owners to engage in conservation by letting their elephants breed naturally and stop using them as transportation,” he said.
Kham Khen’s funeral was held on Wednesday by its owner Chreum Chrun and his family, as well as the villagers, following their traditions and beliefs, said Krang Tes commune police chief Yoem Ban.
“According to the beliefs of Bunong indigenous people, the funeral of an elephant is the same as the funeral of a person.
“The funeral ceremony is three days and three nights according to ethnic traditions. The carcass of the elephant will be buried near their home with a proper fence around the grave,” he said.