Archive for the ‘The Southeast’ Category

The Jaws of Extinction – Siamese Crocodile

Friday, November 4, 2011 posted by Bruce 11:59 AM

The wild Siamese crocodile is one of the most endangered crocodilian species in the world, and extreme efforts to save this species in Thailand from total extinction need to be implemented quickly


A wild Siamese crocodile in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary

Just its head and snout are showing; Note the large forest fly on the eye node

The murky waters of a forest pool in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary lay still and quiet during the mid-morning heat. Occasionally, a fish catching an insect would disrupt the mirror image of the pond, where forest meets water. A dead leaf gently floating down landed on the surface, causing ripples in the pool. A pair of wreathed hornbill were croaking nearby and, high in the trees, pileated gibbon sang to their crescendo.

Situated in Chachoengsao province, Khao Ang Rue Nai consists of semi-evergreen forest and many streams. The forest is surrounded by farmlands and had been squeezed down to the last 1,030 square kilometres before being designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. Still, it is the largest tract of lowland forest left in eastern Thailand.

The same crocodile as above camera trapped but several years later

Fortunately, enough forest was saved where elephant, gaur, banteng and many other species have been able to survive. More than that, it is also home to possibly the last wild crocodile in the Eastern part of the country. Now extremely rare in the wild, crocodiles used to rule freshwater habitats in this part of the world. And they have been around for longer than most living animals.

The earliest crocodile evolved during the Triassic Period, some 200 million years ago, a time when primitive dinosaurs also roamed the planet. The Triassic Period was the first period of the larger Mesozoic Era, which was known also as the Age of Reptiles. However, by the close of the Mesozoic some 65 million years ago, most primitive reptiles save the crocodile had died out.

Another Siamese crocodile in Kaeng Krachan National Park

The largest fossilised crocodile remains ever found, in what is now Texas, date back about 80 million years to the late Cretaceous Period, revealing a creature estimated to have been 15 metres long and weighing over four tonnes. Only the skull of this huge crocodilian was found and it was two metres in length.

These submarine predators exist in swamps, rivers, lakes and seas, only coming out on to land to bask in the sun. Their strongest attribute is a streamlined body which enables them to glide through water with ease, surfacing and submerging at will. Crocodile are extremely secretive, disappearing without a trace in seconds. Perfect carnivores in every way, they eat very little in relation to their body size. Being very efficient creatures, they should be around for a long time to come. But sadly, that may not be the case.

Siamese crocodile in Khao Ang Rue Nai photographed by forest ranger Khun Kitti

Thailand once had three species of wild crocodile in abundance. They could be found in rivers and marshy areas of the Central Plains, and the forested areas of the East, Northeast, West and South.

The freshwater Siamese crocodile, Crocodylus siamensis, which today is just surviving in a few protected areas, was the most common. The tomistoma or false gharial, Tomistoma schlegelii, a thin-snouted freshwater species, was found in rivers of the southern peninsula. The largest crocodile in the world, the estuarine saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, was also very common in river mouths and islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

The same croc as above by Khun Kitti

The gharial and saltwater croc are now extinct in the wild of Thailand, but are farmed along with the Siamese. A hybrid crocodile has also been reared in captivity, by breeding the Siamese with the saltwater croc, and this animal is primarily the one used for its meat and hide.

At the end of World War Two, crocodile farming was coming into vogue and animals were captured from the wild for breeding stock. It is an indisputable fact that they have disappeared in the wild as a result of habitat loss and the creation of crocodile farming. There was no protection since the reptiles were considered pests by many people living close to wild crocodile habitat.

Fresh Siamese crocodile tracks by the Phetchaburi River in Kaeng Krachan

The last remnants are now confirmed in Khao Ang Rue Nai wildlife sanctuary and Kaeng Krachan national park. In April of this year, a fresh set of crocodile tracks was discovered (by the writer) along the river near Phanoen Thung Mountain in Kaeng Krachan. Ten kilometres downriver, another set of tracks had been found previously by camera trap specialists working with the Royal Forest Department, and a photograph was taken of a single crocodile on a sandbank by using an infrared camera trap in daylight. It is presumed that a viable population exists in Kaeng Krachan but more research is needed on how many crocodile are actually there.

There are reports that Siamese crocodile may still exist in Pang Sida national park in Sa Kaeo province, Yot Dom national park in Ubon Ratchathani province, and Phu Khieo wildlife sanctuary in Chaiyaphum province, but most are old reports from 1993. Other than Kaeng Krachan, the only place with photographic evidence of the crocodile’s presence is Khao Ang Rue Nai.

Khlong Takrow in Khao Ang Rue Nai; home to one male croc

Feeding mainly on fish, the freshwater crocodile will also take frogs, birds and small mammals when opportunity arises. With their powerful tail while tucking in their legs, they can glide through water without making a ripple. Using stealth, they move up very close to prey along the waters edge and then, in an instant, grab their victim in powerful jaws before pulling it below and drowning it.

If the carcass is too large to swallow whole, they stash it under water until ripe and then tear it apart. However, adult crocodile can survive for a year or more without a meal.

Perhaps that’s one thing that has enabled the crocodile of Khao Ang Rue Nai to keep quiet and survive. But unless proper protection is provided, it may not be lucky for long.

A serious study by the Forestry Department and other organisations should be undertaken to determine the creatures sex, age and the possibility that other crocodiles exist there. If only one animal is confirmed, then something should be done to ensure the survival of the species.

Restocking with yearling purebred Siamese crocodile seems to be the only solution. But is the species in Thailand’s crocodile farms purebred? It would seem that the animals are prone to crossbreeding and inbreeding, hence the integrity might be suspect.

The Siamese crocodile in the wild is the most endangered crocodilian species in the world. It is estimated that throughout the countries where they are to be found there are now no more than 200 surviving in their natural habitat. Extreme efforts to save the crocodile in Thailand from total extinction need to be implemented. Even though there are many crocodile farms with thousands of animals in them, the true wild population is the one that counts.

Let us hope that full measures will be taken to ensure that the Siamese crocodile will continue to outlive the dinosaur and not end up like the prehistoric creatures alongside whom they once evolved.

Thailand, with all its natural resources, should be the role model for wildlife conservation in Southeast Asia. All those concerned need to work together to protect, save and regenerate the wildlife and forests so that generations to come can be proud of the Kingdom’s natural heritage.

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Banteng: Endangered Herbivores

Thursday, November 26, 2009 posted by Bruce 8:00 AM

WILD SPECIES REPORT

Banteng: Endangered herbivores
Magnificent wild cattle of Southeast Asia
Bovids threatened with extinction

It was a hot steamy morning deep in the wilderness of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a World Heritage Site located in the central province of Uthai Thani. Not much was stirring other than a few birds and insects as the sun rose high in the sky. A hot breeze whiffed through, and heat shimmered from the center of a natural mineral deposit several hours walk from the nearest road. As the day got hotter, thirst kicked in among the many species of herbivore that live in the forest nearby.

Banteng bull in Huai Kha Khaeng

Muntjac (barking deer), sambar, banteng and gaur use this important source of minerals. Many smaller mammals, birds, and reptiles also come to the lick as part of their everyday life. Tiger, leopard, and wild dog frequent the area in search of prey. Occasionally, wild elephant stop for a drink. A male barking deer stepped cautiously down to the water hole. Moving slowly and constantly watching out for predators, the young buck took a long-awaited sip of the life giving minerals. Shortly after, it disappeared back into the forest it had come from. Silence again took precedence as the morning wore on.

Banteng bull and cow in Huai Kha Khaeng

About an hour later at the top-end of the clearing, a herd of twelve banteng magically appeared and went straight down to the waterhole, as their kind have done for aeons. The herd included one old bull, a couple of young bulls and cows, plus three calves, and, like the deer, were extremely alert for carnivores. All of a sudden, a cow snorted an alarm, and the herd bolted for the safety of the bush. Curious by nature, the herd bull stopped short near the forest edge for one last look. The herd surrounded the bull and the young calves trailed behind before disappearing into the trees. For a moment, they were vulnerable to attack by predator. Banteng are very sensitive to any disturbance and flee immediately on the first hint of danger.

Banteng on the run in Huai Kha Khaeng

Another hour went by and suddenly, a solitary banteng bull appeared from the forest and moved down to the waterhole but stayed only momentarily. These loners usually pursue the herd during the mating season and have an irresistible urge to mate with the females. However, the herd bull will keep the young bulls in check.

The spirits of the forest had just provided a vision; some beautiful moments in the lives of banteng, Southeast Asia’s wild cattle. My friend Robert Semon and I were sitting in a photographic blind set up just inside the forest edge, but with an open view to the water hole. Banteng had been the main photographic objective on this trip, and it was magnificent seeing and photographing these wild bovids. My camera was very busy during that short period. As it was the first time I had photographed them, the encounter will be forever etched in memory.

Mature banteng bull in Huai Kha Khaeng

Coming back to Huai Kha Khaeng a couple of years later, my team erected a photo-blind while I went looking for tracks. A large granite rock sits in the middle of this oasis in the forest, so I paid my respects to the spirits of the forest thanking them for my previous good fortune here. It was about an hour’s walk back to the truck, and another hour to camp, but I was feeling lucky. After dinner, and a few drinks with the team, I retired to my hammock for an early wake-up.

The next morning I was in the blind at 6am and, after a three-hour wait, a lone banteng bull lumbered down to the waterhole for a drink. My wish had come true. After getting very close to the blind, he sensed danger and bolted. I shot several rolls of film. Alone, the bull was open to attack by tiger or wild dogs. It was very exciting photographing this beautiful creature.

A couple of years later, on one of my many forays into Huai Kha Khaeng, I decided to stay overnight in a permanent photographic blind set-up along the banks of Huai Mae Dee, a tributary of the Huai Kha Khaeng. That night as I lay in my hammock, I wished once again to see banteng. The next morning, the mist was thick as soup, coating the forest with dew. My focus was on a mineral lick across the river. Many rare species of large mammal visit this natural deposit for a drink, and a nibble on the lush grass growing on the rocky slope. A female muntjac nervously appeared, took a drink but quickly departed.

Banteng cow on the Huai Mae Dee

At about 8am, as the sun was just peaking over the treetops, a large herd of banteng stepped out into the mineral lick. There were five bulls and numerous cows and calves in this herd totaling 18 banteng, and it was an exciting ten-minute session. It was during the mating season, the reason so many bulls had come together. I was shooting a digital camera by now and did not stop photographing them until the last one had gone. As always, I gave thanks to the spirits of the forest for my good fortune.

The accompanying photographs show the beauty and gracefulness of these magnificent ungulates. Over the years, I have seen these wild cattle many times, not only in Huai Kha Khaeng (present herd estimated at over 250 individuals), but also over in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, eastern Thailand (about 80 banteng). These two santuaries are the last bations of a sizable banteng herd left in the Kingdom.

Banteng cows at a waterhole

Huai Kha Khaeng still retains the best prey/predator relationship with many tigers and a sizable herd of banteng plus many other ungulates like gaur, sambar and wild pig. Khao Ang Rue Nai has very few carnivores but Asian wild dogs do take banteng from time to time. Humans unfortunately, are the most devestating predator and are directly responsible for the disappearence of these wonderful creatures. Trophy hunting and bush meat are the two main reasons for this demise.

The other remaining sites that have recorded banteng but are probably now close to extirpation of the species with very few remaining are: Om Koi Wildlife Sanctuary in the North; Nam Nao and Tap Praya national parks in the Northeast; Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary and, Sai Yok, Sri Nakharin and Kaeng Krachan national parks in the west; Khlong Saeng and Khlong Yan wildlife sanctuaries in the south; and Sri Satchanarai National Park in the foot-hills of Central Thailand. Their present numbers are estimated to be no more than a very low 300-500 nationwide.

Fossils of an antelope-like ox named Leptobos was discovered in Early Pleistocene deposits 1.8 million years old in Eurasia. Another ancient cattle found in Europe called Bos primigenius or better known as aurochs were domesticated some 6,000 years ago but died out about 500 years ago. Banteng are common ansestors to Bos bibos, a cattle that inhibitated the vast plains of Asia during prehistoric times. Fossil finds of banteng from the Pleistocene epoch in Bali and Java are common.

Banteng herd on a sandbar in Huai Kha Khaeng

Wild banteng Bos javanicus have a scattered distribution throughout Southeast Asia, and three subspecies are recognized. The Java banteng Bos javanicus javanicus of Java and Bali, the Borneo banteng Bos javanicus lowi, and the Burma banteng Bos javanicus birmanicus, also of Thailand and Indochina. Only a few thousand wild banteng are reported to survive throughout their entire range, since human encroachment and poaching in all the above countries have exacted a heavy toll on them. Their future hangs in the balance. Thailand is no exception and the banteng population has declined drastically since World War II.

Banteng bull at a mineral lick in Huai Kha Khaeng

The Kingdom’s protected areas include national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and are all controlled and managed by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP). It is extremely difficult defending these forests from human intervention, and the DNP has a heavy burden to bear. Let us hope that they will succeed in this very important but really tough task!

One alternative to disappearing banteng is a reintroduction program to save the species. There are a few breeding centers around the country with banteng. Unfortunately, most of the stock is Indonesian banteng. Years ago, Kukrit Pramote, Thailand’s Prime Minister using government to government relations, imported Indonesian banteng that were released at Lum Phow Non-hunting Area in Kalasin province. There are about 60 surviving on a 900 rai plot. Only one breeding center at Khao Nam Phu, Kanchanaburi province is reported to have Thai banteng. Several young banteng were taken from Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary next door and produced off-spring. Presently, there are about 10 individuals at Khao Nam Phu.

Banteng bull at a breeding station in Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary

Another pilot program started in 1991 was initiated at Khao Kheow Open Zoo and 13 banteng (unknown origin) were released to adjacent Khao Kheow-Khao Chumpu Wildlife Sanctuary (144 sq.kilometers) in Chonburi province. There are now an estimated 49 banteng surviving in this herd with a few mature bulls living in a very splintered habitat. Poachers however, are a serious threat here using pipe guns and rope snares left in the forest, and inflict casualties on these reintroduced denzins. DNP needs to make sure they are protected to the fullest.

Rare white-spotted banteng cow – endemic to Huai Kha Khaeng

Banteng have been called the most beautiful of all the wild relatives of cattle. The colouring of young bulls and cows is generally a vibrant reddish brown, though some are fawn. The old bulls in Thailand are mostly blackish-brown, but Indonesian banteng bulls are very dark brown to black in some. Regardless of sex, all Thai banteng have a white band around the muzzle, small white patches over the eyes, white stockings on all four legs, and a large white patch on the rump. Another distinct feature is a black stripe along the spine. The dorsal ridge is pronounced in the large adult bulls. Some Thai banteng have white spots along the flank, but this is not found among the other subspecies.

The skull and horns of banteng are less massive then their cousins the gaur Bos gaurus, but are nevertheless formidable weapons. They use their horns for protection, but the males also use them to decide who will get the females during the breeding season in May and June. Gestation is nine and a half to ten months, and one or two calves may be born. The calves are suckled until they are fourteen to sixteen months old.

Banteng bull and cows at a waterhole in Huai Kha Khaeng – note very dark colored bull

Banteng look very much like some domestic cattle and are probably ancestral to them. In Indonesia and Borneo, banteng have been successfully domesticated and are widely used there. For some reason, this practice has not caught on in mainland Southeast Asia. However, many villagers living close to banteng habitats have had wild bulls mingling with their domesticated cattle, and hybrids have been born. Hybrids have also been reported from some forests in the west where banteng and gaur overlap.

The habitat where banteng are normally found is open deciduous forests and hence banteng are more seriously endangered than gaur. They are grazers and prefer open grasslands. However, they have become more nocturnal due to hunting pressure and are rarely seen during the day, preferring to come out in the open at night. Herds of two up to twenty-five or more have been recorded and usually there is only one mature bull.

Banteng bull and cows at a waterhole in Khao Ang Rue Nai

Solitary bulls, or loners, are quite common, as the herd bull has kicked them out. They will typically shadow the herd, especially during the breeding season when they are hoping for the chance to mate with the cows that come into heat. The herd bull will remain supreme only for as long as he remains fit and has not broken a horn.

The future chances of these magestic creatures is slim. Pressure from humans and increased population growth over the long run can only have an adverse effect on the flora and fauna of the nation. The question is, how long will these magnificent bovid survive and in what places? Can we say that in 50 years banteng will continue to live in their protected areas, safe from human poachers and encroachment. Nature’s clock is ticking relentlessly, and only time will tell.

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Khao Ang Rue Nai – Natural splendor in the East

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 posted by admin 3:59 PM

Thailand’s largest remaining tract of lowland evergreen rainforest and a very important wildlife sanctuary

During mid-morning at a secluded murky stream deep in the Eastern evergreen rainforest, a single reptile glides effortlessly through the water to a favorite basking spot. Lying on the bank some three meters long, this freshwater Siamese crocodile warms-up in the bright sunlight. Judging from the many photographs taken of this individual, it is a mature animal. Sex and actual age are not known, but it has been here for sometime now. The habitat consists of several connecting deep ponds with abundant fish stocks. The crocodile takes occasionally small mammals and birds. It is a lucky but lonely survivor.

Sunrize in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary

During mid-morning at a secluded murky stream deep in the Eastern evergreen rainforest, a single reptile glides effortlessly through the water to a favorite basking spot. Lying on the bank some three meters long, this freshwater Siamese crocodile warms-up in the bright sunlight. Judging from the many photographs taken of this individual, it is a mature animal. Sex and actual age are not known, but it has been here for sometime now. The habitat consists of several connecting deep ponds with abundant fish stocks. The crocodile takes occasionally small mammals and birds. It is a lucky but lonely survivor.

Little grebe in the reservoir

Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary is home to probably the last truly wild Siamese crocodile in eastern Thailand. There are just a few surviving in nearby Cambodia but their future is threatened by the construction of hydroelectric dams. Since Siamese crocs can live for 60-70 years, it is hoped this individual will be in Khao Ang Rue Nai for some time to come.

Bull elephant at a waterhole

Kitti Kreetiyutanont, a forest official working in the sanctuary, recorded the first sighting of this individual in 1987 by photograph. The croc still survives to this day, and is a tribute to the tenacity and longevity of the species. However, it is a case in point where humans are to blame for the disappearance of these remarkable creatures, from the lowlands all the way up into the forest; by encroachment, poaching and logging that went on for decades.

Bull elephant on the move

Some 230 million years ago judging from fossil evidence, the first crocodilians evolved from the Archosaur. Crocodiles have outlived the dinosaur but here in Thailand, the demise of the wild species is close at hand. In the past, crocodiles were found in just about every main river system throughout the Kingdom. Modernization has brought these mystical creatures to the brink of extinction. They were mainly captured to stock crocodile farms, and were also killed by the people who mostly feared the sometimes aggressive reptiles. With no laws in place at the time to protect these animals, extinction was imminent.

Banteng herd at a waterhole in Khao Ang Rue Nai

However, a very small reintroduction program could be implemented here, and with increased protection, could work to save the remarkable Siamese crocodile from extinction in the wild. There are several other sites that can also be used for reintroduction such as Yot Dom National Park in Ubol Ratchathani province, and Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary in Chaiyaphum province where crocs were once common. There are thousands upon thousands of crocodiles in farms, mostly by crossbreeding and hybridization. A wild population is the only option. A few of the crocodile farms still have

Banteng herd at a waterhole

Siamese crocodiles taken from the wild and could easily start a program to save the species. There has been one attempt at a national park to release crocodiles but it apparently was abandoned. Also, several Siamese crocodile have mysteriously showed up at Khao Yai and Thung Salang Luang national parks and believed to have been released clandestinely. These crocodiles should be captured and DNA checked to see if they are truly wild crocs.

Banteng cow with a lame right rear hoof

Khao Ang Rue Nai is situated in the provinces of Chanthaburi, Prachin Buri, Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong. The sanctuary headquarters is located about three hours drive from Bangkok and was established in 1977 by Royal Decree. The protected area consists mainly (80 percent) of dry-evergreen forest with moist and hill evergreen, dry dipterocarp and mixed-deciduous forests interspersed with many streams, and are eastern Thailand’s largest remaining tract of lowland evergreen rainforest in the country. An annual rainfall of some 3,000 to 4,000 millimeters (118-160 inches) has been recorded.

Mother elephant and infant

The sanctuary is 1030 sq. km (398 sq.miles) in area and is part of the Prachinburi floodplain. It is the largest protected area of the Eastern Forest Complex, which includes four national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries: included are Khao Chamao – Khao Wong, Khao Khitchakut, Namtok Phlio and Khlong Kaeo national parks, and Khao Soi Dao, Khlong Khrua Wai Chaloem Phrakiat and Khao Ang Rue Nai wildlife sanctuaries. Unfortunately, these protected areas are mere islands in a sea of humanity.

Burmese reticulated python

In the old days, the Eastern Forest Complex was known as the Phanom Sarakham forest, and was one of the richest forests in Thailand famed for its abundant flora and fauna covering an area of about 8,000 square kilometers. Just a short 50 years ago, this dense, lush and vast jungle was home to large herds of elephant, gaur and banteng. Tigers and Asian wild dogs were common as were most of the smaller mammals like sambar, serow, wild pig, and muntjac (barking deer). Hornbills and gibbons, indicator species of an intact forest, thrived. But that quickly shrank as the human population expanded in causing irreversible damage to the ecosystems.

Variable squirrel

Due to its close proximity to Bangkok and other cities, many city hunters entered this forest at night spotlighting, either on foot or by jeep. This decimated the wildlife as everything was taken without regard for species, sex or age. The most damaging was the eight 30-year logging concessions carried out by logging companies that cut many roads into the forest. This alone-allowed easy access to virgin forest and it was not long before most everything vanished. In the meantime, this wilderness was also completely surrounded by agricultural land, which also took its toll.

Crab-eating macaque eating ‘mama’ dried noodles found in a trash can

Fortunately, and before it was too late; enough forest was saved so that the mammals and others were able to survive to the present. Although populations of the large herbivores have declined, they can be still be seen at various sites within the sanctuary. Unfortunately, the tiger has disappeared but a few Asian wild dogs still roam the interior and are at the top of the food chain.

Lessor whistling ducks

In 1967 when the Vietnam War was in full swing, the government cut many new roads through the forests in eastern Thailand supposedly to facilitate movement of US personnel and equipment from Utapao Airbase to other airfields in the Northeast. At the end of the Cambodian civil war in 1986, the Thai Army made one such road through the top half of Khao Ang Rue Nai. The impact of the road on this forest and the animals has been devastating and many creatures have been killed or maimed by vehicles on this thoroughfare.

Lessor whistling ducks

The research unit stationed at Khao Ang Rue Nai on road-kill, deer and bovid population, elephant management and jungle fowl has carried out much research. Most accidents happened from 6pm to 6am. After much publicity, the road is now closed from 9pm to 5pm everyday and road-kill has dropped 70-80 percent. This is a plus for conservation where like-minded people have taken action to help prevent further carnage of wild animals.

Lessor whistling ducks

A total of 132 mammal, 395 bird, 32 amphibian and 107 reptile species have been recorded. Thousands of plant and insect species are found. Birds such as the black-and-red broadbill and the Siamese Fireback thrive. The rare woolly-necked stork and lesser adjutant once lived in these forests but have not been seen for sometime and are presumed extinct locally.

Oriental darter

Rare water birds like the Oriental dater and great cormorant migrate here and stay for several months at a reservoir built near the headquarters. This water source was created for the elephants during the dry season hoping to help eliminate human-elephant conflict. The marauding giants in search of food and water have killed and hurt many people. There are also recent reports of foraging gaur attacking farmers outside the sanctuary by mostly young bulls kicked out of the herd.

Oriental darter

The dangers facing Khao Ang Rue Nai are now severe as poachers and farmers snare indiscriminately. Cheap and simple rope snares have killed many elephants, gaur and banteng plus many other mammals. The villagers say they are protecting their crops. But many areas are in close proximity to the forest and interaction between wild beast and humans is a serious problem for the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, who are constantly under pressure from these conflicts. More personnel and protective management plus a bigger budget are needed to protect these forests.

Great cormorant and little cormorant

Great cormorant

Little cormorant

But it must also be understood by the general public that wildlife sanctuaries are not open to the general public and have been set aside for species conservation, protection and bio-diversity research. Unlike national parks, recreation is not encouraged although it does occur, especially at waterfalls and viewpoints. Needless to say, the future of all conservation areas in the Kingdom is in the balance, and only increased protection, conservation awareness and education are the keys to sustain Thailand’s wonderful natural heritage.

Notes from the field:

For capturing images of such elusive creatures like crocodiles and elephants, infrared camera-traps are a very productive alternative to endless days of sitting in a hot photo-blind. Crocodiles are creatures of habit, so I set a camera-trap at its favorite basking spot by Klong Takrow. The croc was caught on film many times during a two-week session. One frame shown above was taken in early morning light. It seems as if the crocodile is smiling, and saying, “I’m right here”. I was elated to get such a lucky shot.

Siamese crocodile camera-trapped at Klong Takrow

Khao Ang Rue Nai is currently home to about 130 wild elephants. The road transects the northern part straight through old elephant habitat. The narrow road was widened and resurfaced allowing faster speed. In 2002, a man and woman in a pickup truck barreling through the sanctuary at high speed did not see the elephants on the road until it was too late. The truck crashed head-on into a 5-year-old tusker. The truck’s driver was killed on impact but the woman survived. The young elephant died shortly after.

The ironic circumstances of this accident – ancient animal and modern machine – weighed heavy in my heart. I had set camera-traps near the crocodile pond in the sanctuary a couple of weeks before. When the film was retrieved and processed, I was elated that a herd of elephants had triggered one of the cameras producing several frames. One frame showed an inquisitive little tusker looking straight at the camera. My elation quickly subsided a few days after the terrible news on TV and newspaper reports that a small tusker had been killed in the sanctuary. My worst fears were confirmed after consultation with Royal Forest Department officials and comparing photographs. A scar on the dead calf’s forehead proved it to be the same animal that I had ‘camera-trapped’.

Such accidents are a terrible blow to the conservation of Thai elephants, because tuskers are particularly vulnerable, being subject to hunting for their ivory. This young tusker was not the first and probably not the last elephant killed by reckless driving on this road. However, the Royal Thai Army and the Department of National Parks should be commended for taking the initiative by partially closing the road at night.

It is hoped that one day the time will be extended from 6pm to 6am to increase the animal’s chances for survival. This is the logical step and humans using this road would have to adjust to the new times for the sake of saving the wildlife.

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