Almost every night for the last month, elephants have come on to the Mong Reththy
oil palm plantation near Sihanoukville. The animals, or possibly a single bull, have
eaten and trampled on the tender young palm trees. At least 500 of the plants have
been destroyed, said Bill Hilston, general manager of the plantation.
Provincial wildlife officers in a human-elephant conflict response team, after completing their training course in Pu Long village in Mondolkiri province on October 20.
The voracious appetite of the animals has cost the plantation owner thousands of
dollars. In Cambodia, he is not alone.
The last few years have seen a surge in the reported number of conflicts between
humans and elephants. Even as the population of Asian elephants slides toward extinction,
encounters with humans appear to be increasing.
Human-elephant conflicts occur around the world, particularly where conservation
efforts are succeeding. But in Cambodia, with between 200 and 600 elephants, a combination
of human population growth, rapid development and habitat loss have pushed the species
closer to human activity. Elephants are raiding crops as settlers establish new farms
in formerly forested elephant ranges.
Wildlife groups record on average two incidents of conflict per month, reported Chheang
Dany, director of the Wildife Protection Office at the Department of Forestry and
Wildlife (DFW). Most of the human-elephant clashes occur in the south and southwest
of the country. However, farmers as far north as Mondolkiri province have reported
crop damage and proposed killing the animals to protect their crops.
But NGOS are scrambling to offer non-lethal deterrents to stop the conflicts and
avoid the gruesome slaughter of elephants, which sometimes means strafing them with
"[Human-elephant conflict] is not a solvable problem, it's a manageable one,"
said Joe Heffernan, program coordinator at Fauna and Flora International (FFI) which
is leading the government's elephant program. "We have to make rural people
more tolerant [of the elephants' presence]. That will be the best way to reduce retribution
The human-elephant conflict (HEC) project coordinates three response teams composed
of provincial wildlife officials and NGO conservation workers in Bokor National Park
in Kampot province; Sen Monorom in Mondolkiri province; and Dong Tung Town in Koh
When elephant conflicts are reported, a team is dispatched to assess the site. They
offer local residents different ways to chase away elephants including firecrackers,
burning chili peppers or erecting fences and digging ditches. A team was dispatched
to the Mong Reththy plantation on October 22.
The HEC response team, a joint-operation between DFW, the Ministry of Environment
and FFI, aims to train government staff how to respond to elephant conflicts and,
ultimately, influence land use planning so that human encroachment on elephant habitat
is minimized. FFI is working with the DFW to designate "Managed Elephant Ranges"
for the long-term protection of the species.
The plight of Asian elephants is critical. Populations have plummeted throughout
Southeast Asia. The World Conservation Union estimates that about 50,000 individuals
remain in the wild, mostly in India, down from 100,000 at the beginning of the last
century. The species is threatened by hunting for ivory, meat and sport, forest loss,
crop conflicts with humans and capture for tourist shows.
At least four NGOS in Cambodia are tackling elephant conservation including WildAid,
the World Wide Fund for Nature, Cat Action Treasury and FFI.