Our conservation work in Thailand
Human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction are critical threats to wildlife in Thailand. That’s why we’ve been working on the ground and behind-the-scenes to protect species including Asian elephants, tigers and pangolins.
Our conservation work is focused in the south-eastern Western Forest Complex (sWEFCOM), an area approximately 4,900km2 and located near the Myanmar border.
The Complex includes national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and non-hunting zones. As well as being a priority area for elephants, tigers, pangolins, and many other species, it’s an important watershed for Western Thailand.
Using technology in our Asian elephant conservation work
We’ve used cutting-edge wildlife technology to monitor Asian elephants and threats to their conservation and support sWEFCOM staff to protect the species on the ground.
Monitoring elephants and threats to their conservation
We’ve used camera traps (CT) and ecological sign transects (EST) to study the dynamics between Asian elephants, other wildlife and competing livestock.
This helps us understand long-term trends in elephant distribution, occupancy density and population structure within the sWEFCOM.
We can also become aware of whether elephants and other species, including marauding livestock, are competing for habitat and water resources within the protected areas.
By consistently monitoring elephants, we can observe changes in elephant activity around target villages before and after we attempt to mitigate threats.
It’s also possible to map movement patterns of recognised individual elephants to gain a better understanding of how they move throughout the landscape.
Asian elephant identification database
Using targeted camera trap surveys, we’ve started building an elephant identification database. This helps us identify recurring crop-raiding elephants and to respond to them based on each elephant’s unique personality profile.
Working with sWEFCOM staff
We’ve worked with protected area staff in various ways:
We’ve helped implement Smart Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) software to make ranger patrols as efficient as possible.
We’ve assisted with data analysis to identify key threats within protected areas.
We’ve run technical workshops at ranger stations to fill gaps in capacity and best-practice knowledge.
Tackling human-elephant conflict
With almost 20% of Thailand’s elephant population living in sWEFCOM, they’re a vital metapopulation to maintain genetic diversity and viability in the region.
But habitat destruction and fragmentation increasingly bring wildlife including elephants into contact and conflict with people living nearby.
Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is becoming a major challenge.
Over the last 20 years, incidents of conflict such as crop raiding, property damage, and in extreme circumstances elephant and human deaths, have increased.
That’s why we’re working to monitor and reduce conflict between humans and elephants around the boundaries of the protected area complex.
Asian elephant conservation work with partners and the community
Working hand-in-hand with the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), we manage a comprehensive programme to monitor, and initiate community outreach activities that address conflict between humans and elephants.
And, through the development of new technologies and outreach initiatives, we work with community groups and protected area managers to mitigate the effects of crop raiding.
We train members of local communities collect and report human-elephant conflict data. This includes data on patterns, seasonality and crop preferences.
This helps us understand the causes of crop-raiding so we can develop models to minimise conflict.
The models are used to help local stakeholders make decisions about crop selection and land use planning.
We're also piloting and comparing mitigation strategies such as early warning systems (MMS-enabled camera traps), deterrents (solar lights), and informing construction of barriers (semi-permanent fence) so we can understand how effective different techniques are in reducing crop-raiding.
This work contributes to developing a human-wildlife conflict resolution model that can be replicated in other landscapes and for other species.
Our pangolin conservation work in Thailand
Combatting illegal wildlife trade
Thailand sits within Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot and plays a key role in the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), as a source, consumer and transit location.
Pangolins are considered the world's most trafficked wild mammal. And all international commercial trade in pangolins, their body parts and derivatives, is illegal.
Despite this, Thailand is repeatedly reported to be in the top ten countries most involved in pangolin trafficking in terms of weight of seized contraband.
The country’s proximity to China and Vietnam, the world’s two primary markets for pangolins, combined with its well-developed transportation infrastructure, have attracted criminal syndicates specialising in IWT.
We’re working to conserve species threatened by IWT, including the pangolin, and we aim to disrupt illegal wildlife trade from source to consumption by focusing on five key areas:
Supporting effective law enforcement and building capacity to identify and mitigate threats.
Integrating intelligence gathered through community relationships.
Countering IWT via conservation finance and online trade monitoring.
Using innovative technologies to enhance law enforcement efforts.
Developing culturally appropriate social and behavioural change interventions to reduce consumer demand.
In 2021, we partnered with TRAFFIC and jointly commissioned a GlobeScan assessment of meat consumption in Thailand.
This was used to inform the Kind Dining demand reduction campaign aimed at reducing consumption of wild meat in Thailand.
We’re also leading a Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) funded project with three areas of work:
1. Collating and analysing overland IWT data
2. Increasing detection of IWT in the following ways:
Building capacity of wildlife detector dogs and handlers.
Increasing coordination among law enforcement agencies.
3. Increasing awareness and reporting of suspected IWT by engaging with transport companies and associations.
Tiger conservation in Asia
Indochinese tigers have been studied in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in northern WEFCOM for many years, and the entire Complex is vital for this species in Thailand.
That’s why we’ve partnered with Thailand’s DNP. We’re conducting surveys, gathering information about tigers in the sWEFCOM.
The Complex was identified as an important dispersal area for tigers from Hui Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and it’s critical to tiger conservation efforts in the area.
The project has produced successes. Tigers were captured on camera for the first time in various locations including Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern sWEFCOM.
With increased law enforcement, effective patrolling, and sustainable prey populations, this could become an important area for tigers.
As of 2018, Panthera took over tiger research and conservation activities in the area.
Our ongoing work in Thailand is vital for the conservation and recovery of many species. By working together, with partners and local communities, we will shape a more balanced, vibrant and connected world.
Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation
Our work in Thailand is kindly funded by:
Cecil King Memorial Fund,
Friedman French Foundation
Panthera, Taiwan Forestry Bureau
UNDP Thailand, USFWS
Asian Elephant Fund
Rhino - Tiger Conservation Fund.
Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund
Urgent action to stop the devastation of critical species and habitats by helping people and wildlife live better together, is the only way to save the natural world we love and depend upon. That’s where ZSL comes in, and where you can play your part.