Elephants in Thailand

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Elephants in Thailand

There are 69 of 189 Protected Areas (37%) that are habitat for Asian elephants in Thailand. The population of wild elephants in Thailand are estimated to be 3,084-3,500 individuals. Compared to 14 years ago, the elephant population trend is increasing at the present time. Western Forest Complex has the highest number of elephants followed by Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex and Phu Khieo-Nam Nao Forest Complex.

Threats to wild elephants in Thailand are the same as other nations: habitat loss and degradation due to the increasing human population density and agricultural encroachment. Elephant poaching for tusks also threatens wild elephants in forest areas. Moreover, human-elephant conflict (HEC) also arises at the interface zone between elephant habitat and agricultural area, especially rice, corn and cassava fields. Sometimes, it resulted in elephant deaths by electrocution from improper electric fences or gunshot. Although many organizations try to conserve the elephant population, the problems still persist.

Elephants in Thailand
Elephants number and distribution in Thailand

Conservation Status of Elephants in Thailand

Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, are listed as “Endangered” species in IUCN Red List (2021). They are also listed in List Number 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which cannot purchase any part of an elephant unless the research or reproduction permit is allowed from an imported country.

In Thailand, they are also listed as “Preserved animal” in Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act B.E. 2562 (2019), Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Elephant tusks are also protected by Elephant Ivory Tusks Act, B.E. 2558 (2015). The killing, hunting, collecting or reproduction of any elephant parts are prohibited in Thailand unless the permits are allowed.

Captive or domestic elephants are protected by Beasts of Burden Act, B.E. 2482 (1939) under the Department of Provincial Administration, Ministry of Interior, Thailand. The owners of the elephants have to register their elephants to prevent wild elephant smuggling. Recently, Thailand is developing the Elephant Act which will help in elephant policy, elephant welfare and camp management.

domesticated, captive elephant
Captive elephant

Thailand Belief and History with Elephants

The white elephant flag, Thai national flag
White Elephant Flag, by Xiengyod & Sodacan, Wikipedia.org

Elephants have been integrated in Thai people’s beliefs, livelihood and history for a long time. One of the most famous elephants in Thai people is “Chao Phraya Chaiyanuphap”. He was tusker with the former name called “Plai Phukhao Thong” since the Krung Sri Ayutthaya Era. After registering to be the Royal War Elephant of King Naraesuan of Ayutthaya Kingdom, he fought and brought victory during the campaigns against the Taungoo Empire in 1593. Fast forward to the Rattanakosin Era of Thailand, Phra Buddha Loetla Nabhalai, King Rama II, of Chakri Dynasty demanded that Siam have to use White Elephant in the Red Background Flag.

Elephants also appeared in the Buddha Religion in Thailand. Many temples have wall-paintings, statues or Chedi of elephants. If you are interested in this form of art, you can take a look at Buddhist Church of Wat PaLelai Temple, Suphanburi Province for the elephants and Buddha statues or Elephant-based Chedi of Wat Chang Lom Temple in Sukhothai Province.

In addition, Thailand has arranged 13th March of every year to be the “Thailand Elephant Day”. The reason that they selected this day was because it was the day that the elephant was selected to be Thailand National Representative Animal. Thus, Many Thailand organizations have used this day to raise awareness of elephant importance and call for conservation support for Thailand elephants.


AsESG Thailand Forum. 2017. Mapping of wild elephant presence sites, population, and HEC presence sites in Thailand. In the meeting of Asian elephant specialists and potential members of Thailand on 17 May 2017 supported by WWF-TH Dawna Tenasserim Transboundary programme, Bangkok.
Srikrachang, M. 2003. Conservation and Management of Elephants in Thailand. Ph.D. Dissertation, Mahidol University. Thailand.
6 ข้อสำคัญกับช้างป่าในประเทศไทย https://idgthailand.com/elephant_day-2018/
เล่าเรื่องช้างกับประเทศไทย https://www.newtv.co.th/news/12827