Fears over Human Consumption of Elephant Meat in Thailand

It has been reported recently that elephants in Thailand are being killed for their meat.  Wildlife officials were alerted to the practice after two elephants were killed in a national park in western Thailand.  The poachers took away the trunk and sex organs for human consumption.  This recent event is worrisome given that such practices can lead to the extinction of elephants.

Elephants are not usually killed for their meat.  Rather, poachers kill elephants for their ivory tusks, which can be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market.  Ivory tusks have been used to make items such as billiard balls and piano keys.  However, in Thailand, elephant meat is being consumed, sometimes even raw, much like a sashimi.

Damrong Phidet, director-general of Thailand’s wildlife agency, claimed that the elephant meat was ordered by restaurants in Phuket.  However, the governor of Phuket, Tri Akradecha claimed to have never heard of restaurants in Phuket serving elephant meat.  Nevertheless, the governor has ordered officials to look into the matter.

Other environmental officials are stating that ivory is still the main reason elephants are being killed in Thailand. According to Sorida Salwala, founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation, a full pair of ivory tusks can sell anywhere from one million to two million ($31,600 to $63,300) baht in Thailand.  An elephant’s penis can sell for more than 30,000 ($950) baht.  Thailand is home to fewer than 3,000 wild elephants and about 4,000 domesticated elephants.

Due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the poaching of elephants for ivory has been illegal since 1989.  Regardless, elephants have still been victim to ruthless poaching practices for their hide, meat, and tusks.  The organs and meat of exotic animals such as the elephant are commonly used in traditional Asian medicine and thus, there has always been a market for elephant parts.  For instance, the consumption of animals’ sexual organs is considered to boost one’s sexual performance in some Asian cultures.  In addition, elephants are also captured and used for entertainment purposes.  The capture of an elephant for entertainment purposes is also considered illegal. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Asian elephant is currently classified as “endangered” and the African elephant is classified as “vulnerable” to extinction.  Only around 25,600 to 32,750 Asian elephants are left in the wild, and about 470,000 to 690,000 individual African elephants are remaining.  Therefore, this recent news on elephant meat consumption is terribly concerning. 

Aside from poaching, further threats to the elephant population include conflict with humans, habitat loss, and genetic threats.  As the human population grows, humans settle in remote areas once considered home to wild animals such as the elephant. With this encroachment comes conflict and sadly, elephants lose their habitat or are killed.  In addition to human conflict and habitat loss, elephants are now also facing a genetic crisis in which the number of male elephants with tusks has decreased due to poaching practices.  The decline in the number of male tuskers has led to a skewed sex ratio which researchers are concerned will lead to inbreeding and high juvenile mortality rates.

To help the fight against the extinction of wildlife species such as the elephant, please visit http://www.worldwildlife.org to see how you can help. 

Photo credit: fws.gov/endangered/news/bulletin-spring2010/making-enemies-into-allies

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