The Changing Fate of Thailand’s Elephants, But a Future Worth Fighting For: The Interplay of Culture and Ecology for Conservation

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Os Schmidt
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The elephant is historically and culturally significant in Thailand. However, there has been a sharp decline in their population. In 1900, there were 100,000 known elephants in Thailand, but today the number is at a maximum of 7,000. This paper aims to understand the causes of the decline and predict the future prospects for Thailand’s elephants. Throughout history, elephants in Thailand were captured to be used in war, then for use in the logging industry, and now for use in tourism. Culturally, the elephant is significant in Buddhist and Karen traditions, but there has been a disconnect between the symbol of the elephant and the living one. Using observations of the elephant tourism industry, interviews with major stakeholders, and a species distribution model, I find that elephants now are vulnerable to overexploitation and extinction. Too many live in captivity, human-elephant conflict is wide- spread, and the laws that protect the elephants are outdated. However, there is plenty of optimal habitat for elephants, land becomes more habitable for elephants with climate change, and there are people who care about working to create lasting change. With the correct conservation measures and more prioritization of these measures, elephants in Thailand could prosper.