The participants in the Chang(e) Elephant Caravan have finally reached their destination after their trek across the plains of Central Thailand. The five elephants and Greenpeace supporters set off from the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park fourteen days ago with the purpose of bringing attention to global warming. They are calling on Barack Obama and other world leaders to take immediate action against climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December. The Chang(e) Elephant Caravan also coincides with the start of the Climate Change talks in Bangkok which start on Monday. (If you didn’t know, “chang” is Thai for elephant.)
According to Greenpeace, global warming effects everyone, both rich and poor countries alike. They say that Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable and least prepared regions to cope with the impacts of climate change. They also claim that the Asian Elephant, along with almost 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity in the region, is threatened by deforestation which in turn magnifies the impact of any climate change. According to their research, deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They say time is fast running out and a strong climate treaty is badly needed at Copenhagen.
The five elephants on the 250 km long journey were all rehabilitated by the Thai Elephant Research and Conservation Fund (TERF). The route took them from Khao Yai National Park to Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachinburi, Chachoengsao and finally Samut Prakan. Wiriya Kingwatcharapong, a media campaigner for Greenpeace, told me that all of the elephants easily managed the walk without any physical harm done to them. They never did more than 10 kilometers per day and that there were plenty of rest periods. They also travelled on trucks whenever the route took them through cities and on busy highways. In addition, it is apparently against the law for elephants to cross provincial borders on foot. So, they had to be put on trucks for these short stretches of road.
I caught up with the Chang(e) Elephant Caravan at Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan at the weekend. This was their finishing line and also a resting place for two days. The five magnificent elephants were greeted by hundreds of local school children who then briefly joined the caravan as they paraded through the park. The banner that they held proclaimed, “Save our Forests. Save our Climate.” The fourteen day journey had taken them through the Bangpakong River Basin, an important agricultural area in Thailand, which is now experiencing climate change impacts such as flooding, drought, saltwater intrusion, and coastal erosion. Greenpeace held workshops and public hearing during the journey and all of the evidence that they collected was then presented to the media on Sunday morning at Ancient Siam.
At the weekend, Greenpeace held educational activities for the school children at Ancient Siam. They taught them about the Asian elephants and also the dangers from global warming. Apparently, there used to be over 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are now only 2,000 wild and 3,000 domesticated elephants left. The situation will only get worse as we continue to take over their natural habitats.