From the verdant parks to the sprawling wildlife sanctuaries of Thailand, a diligent count by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation concluded that as from March 9, this year, the elephant population ranged between 4,013 and 4,422. These magnificent creatures roamed across 91 national parks, sanctuaries and non-hunting zones, painting a postcard-worthy picture of nature’s beauty.
However, the steady deterioration of their habitat coupled with a lack of adequate food sources have been impacting the health of these elephants, precipitating a decline in their number. This concern laid the groundwork for a groundbreaking project launched in 2002, aiming to freeze elephant semen for artificial insemination applications, a step forward in securing the continuation of the species.
The innovative project witnessed a fruitful collaboration between the Zoological Park Organisation, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Kasetsart University, and the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. The result? The birth of two healthy elephants through artificial insemination- a triumphant example of modern science: Plai Prathom Somphop and Saen Rak.
The male elephant, Plai Prathom Somphop, was born on March 7, 2007, almost two years post the artificial insemination procedure performed on its mother, Phang Chord, from June 8-10, 2005. His Majesty King Bhumibol the Great bestowed a name on the elephant on October 6, 2009. Known fondly as “AI,” indicating his unique status as firstborn via artificial insemination in Thailand.
Embodying significance beyond his birth, Plai Prathom Somphop displayed leadership by guiding a group of 29 elephants in a ceremony honouring the demise of His Majesty King Bhumibol the Great on October 31, 2016. Currently 16, he resides in the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang.
A female elephant named Saen Rak, translating to “beloved” in Thai, was born on October 8, 2018, roughly two years post her mother, Pang Chim’s artificial insemination procedure carried out from December 26-28, 2016.
Recently, the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi commemorated the elephant’s 5th birthday with an oversized cake composed of an array of fruits and vegetables such as banana, sugarcane, corn, watermelon, guava, dragon fruit, carrot, pumpkin and napier grass. The occasion welcomed tourists and mainly children to send their birthday wishes to Saen Rak.
The preservation and revamping of Thailand’s biodiversity go hand in hand with the continuity of such projects encompassing other protected species like the eastern sarus crane, white rhinoceros, the tapir, Fea’s muntjac, the serow, the clouded leopard, the marbled cat, the fishing cat, the Asian golden cat, and the goral.
These concerted efforts strive against further animal extinctions in Thailand, which has already endured the loss of Schomburgk’s deer, the Javan rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhinoceros and the kouprey. A holistic approach to securing the future of these species, and in extension, the planet’s ecological harmony is crucial.