"On our first night in Kui Buri, we joined the rangers as they herded elephants back into the forest by rounding them up using a truck. It was fascinating because while we did not agree with how they did what they do we joined in to experience how they do it. After all, participation is a key part of learning how other people are managing with every day human elephant conflict situations.
So come 11pm after a long day travelling we found ourselves rodeoing along across a grass meadow following elephant tracks that had headed to the village boundary.
The elephants initially just appeared to be pink blobs above the pineapple field and you could be mistaken into thinking they were roofs of a distant house or a rock but as they moved you could see instantly that they were elephants.
The first three we found were 3 bulls, two tuskers and a seedor.
Typically literature and anecdotal conversations state that bulls are in smaller groups than females but here before us was a real wild bull group and they quickly picked up their heads and started moving. Initially they moved quite slowly but soon they sped up. We ended up driving alongside them as the rangers called out to them to keep moving and they were moving fast! After approximately 500m they swung right and headed back to the fence line.
Once there we could see that they had headed directly back to exact same spot they had come through. This was quite an incredible feat as apart from our headlights it was pitch black and at speed had managed to loop back to the exact same spot they
had crossed into the area. How they had managed this beyond me. Was it luck? Do elephants have a much greater spatial awareness than they we were aware of. Are their footprints scented enough and there smell strong enough that at speed they
can cross the previous tracks and track back to where they come from. I don't know but honestly once again elephants had presented us with more questions than answers.
In this photo, you can see how the elephants broke the electric fence piece by piece to unwind the electric wire away from themselves in order to cross the electric fence.
After this we looked at the map of the local area and headed back along the village to where we assumed they would come out. There we went to see a rubber plantation that had been recently damaged and turned off the truck lights to experience the environment there. It was terribly interesting because so many of the farmers have different methods to defend there farms so the area is a myriad of flashing lights and the ticking noise of numerous electric fences. The elephants ended
up back exactly where we had been waiting for them at 5am and we woke to farmers asking us? How did you know.
After a good feed we headed out for our second day. In the morning we headed back to the ‘scene of the crime’ and retraced the footprints of the three elephants. While we could not figure out the answer to how the elephants had returned to the same spot where they had broken the fence, we could see how they had broken it and how they had waited for some time on the opposite side before doing so.
After that we went back to where we had waited 7 hours earlier to see what had
happened and to see where the farmers had said the elephants had reappeared.
What we found there was even more interesting... First we found where they
had raided the pineapple and then we tracked them back to a spot we could
see they had nervously waited. There we could see they had paced backwards
and forwards and had stripped a tree waiting and listening in to work out where to go.
The three bulls had clearly been using this spot on a small rise to scout out where the farmers were waiting at night time so they could raid around them. We also found after talking to a couple who farmed cows in the immediate area that they had also killed a calf the night before to silence it so the farmers would not be aware of there position. I asked to see the body to see whether it had really been killed by an elephant or had died of other causes but they had already buried it and we had no time to see. Again though signs of advance planning.
After this we went to see other farms and to learn more about the local situation."
To be continued.....
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