Wild Elephants Kill Villager in Mondolkiri Protected Area

A farmer foraging for mushrooms was killed by wild elephants in a protected area of Mondolkiri province, officials said yesterday, an act conservationists said was rare but could become more frequent as people and the animals share an increasing amount of space.

Sreth Th’yal, 49, was walking through the forest on Thursday in O’Reang district’s Sen Monorom commune, part of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, with his neighbor and a few dogs when they came upon a group of two adult female and three young elephants, which were startled by the dogs’ barks, multiple officials said.

“The elephant tried to protect her baby from the barking dogs, then chased the dogs and trampled one victim to death who had tripped over a tree branch” as he ran, district governor Norng Tunnary said of one of the female elephants.

The neighbor, who was able to escape, alerted other villagers, but when they arrived at the scene of the incident, Sreth Th’yal was dead and the elephants were gone, Mr. Tunnary said.

Elephants had been destroying villagers’ crops every few months for about two years, said commune chief Kvan Trel adding that locals had requested that authorities intervene.

“Our farmers have no way to protect their crops from wild elephants. If we dig  in the ground to set a trap to catch elephants, it violates the law,” Ms. Trel said.

Keo Sopheak, head of the provincial environment department, said to protect people from elephants the department would educate farmers so they would not clear forest where elephants live.

“The elephants never harass farmers’ farms, but the farmers clear the forest in the elephants’ sanctuary,” he said.

Ross Sinclair, country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said that while his staff could not remember an instance of a person being killed by a wild elephant in Cambodia in at least the last five years, the potential for danger was increasing as forest areas decreased.

“As people clear more land and there’s more human encroachment, there’s going to be more human-elephant conflict,” Mr. Sinclair said. “The main cause of this is uncontrolled land clearance and land grabbing.”

In Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, where WCS estimates 139 elephants live based on a survey of DNA samples collected in 2010 and 2011, approximately 20,000 people have moved to the southern border area in the last few years, mostly seeking land for small-scale agriculture, he said.

Jack Highwood, co-founder and deputy director of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment in Mondolkiri province, said as the region lost huge amounts of forest, the likelihood of violent interactions between people and elephants had risen.

Elephants were “being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas,” Mr. Highwood said. “It’s just a wake-up call that’s we’re running out of forest.”

Domesticated elephants killed their owners in separate instances in April this year and September last year in Mondolkiri province.

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