Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary
|Overlooking Thung Salakpra, the sanctuary's central savannah forest and the heartland of its elephant population|
Established in 1965, Salakpra was Thailand's first wildlife sanctuary, created to protect a rich forest fauna close to Bangkok and the famous River Kwai. Over the years, it has been diminished and abused through official neglect and a growing human population around its much altered, still uncertain boundary. As a result, Salakpra is now a badly damaged, peninsula arm of WEFCOM, home to shockingly few wild animals other than 130-150 elephants whose forest home is degrading every day at the hands of local people and outsiders exploiting it for free. Once a symbol of Thai pride, it is now a symbol of shame.
Salakpra needs help to avoid becoming an ecological wasteland of limited biological value. It is badly damaged, more so in some areas than others, but it is not yet dead. It can recover, given the chance, but who cares enough to help? Salakpra is too small and too ordinary to excite national or international attention for its biodiversity attributes, but it is valuable to Kanchanaburi, especially to those who live around it, for its forest products and ecosystem services. The Department of National Parks has the mandate to care for it but cannot do so without political will, local support, technical skills, and adequate resources. Local people have the will, for their own sake, but no rights, responsibilities, or resources. Local government has resources but no mandate or political will.
Salakpra can be helped only if those with the mandate, the will, the skills, the knowledge and the resources work together to a common aim and develop a collaborative system of support that will ensure the sustainable use, effective protection, and ecosystem restoration of Salakpra for the benefit of local people, elephants and other wildlife. Can this be achieved and if so, who can do what, when and how? And, most critical of all, how can these interventions become part of a new collaborative system so that they continue to work effectively in the long-term, long after the life of any project?
What can we do to restore the pride of Salakpra, Thailand's first wildlife sanctuary? And in so doing, how can we demonstrate that people and elephants can live side by side in their respective zones, each helping the other to maintain contented lives and livelihoods.