Elephant in the room: visitor crashes through kitchen wall in Thailand

By Rebecca Ratcliffe

Ratchadawan Puengprasoppon was awoken in the early hours of Saturday morning by crashing and banging. When she went to find out what had happened, she discovered an elephant’s head poking through her kitchen wall beside the drying rack.

The male elephant, named Boonchuay, appeared to be looking for something to eat. His trunk rummaged through the kitchen drawers, knocking pans and cooking paraphernalia to the floor. He chewed on a plastic bag as Ratchadawan, unsure what to do, filmed the episode on her phone.

This article includes content provided by Facebook. We ask for your permission before anything is loaded, as they may be using cookies and other technologies. To view this content, click 'Allow and continue'.

It’s not the first time Boonchuay, who lives in Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan national park, has visited Chalermkiatpattana village. “They come to visit quite often. They always come when there is the local market because they can smell food,” said Itthipon Thaimonkol, the park’s superintendent.

Thai media reported that the same elephant had even paid a visit to Ratchadawan’s kitchen on one of those occasions, causing damage worth almost 50,000 baht (£1,140).

Dr Joshua Plotnik, an assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, who studies the elephant population in the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, western Thailand, said it was very common for elephants from national parks to raid nearby cropfields for sugar cane or corn.

“In the villages in which I work in Thailand, elephants enter farmers’ cropfields almost nightly. This is a really difficult issue for both the farmers and the elephants,” he said.

Most villagers were respectful of and sympathetic toward the elephants, Plotnik said. “They are frustrated that this is happening, and really want to find solutions to stop it, but they don’t usually blame the elephants.”

Itthipon said volunteers from the local community and an officer of the national park work together to monitor the elephants, and use loud noise and other deterrents to try to push them back towards the forest.

In China recently there was the story of a herd of elephants that travelled for 15 months far away from their natural habitat, eating entire fields of corn and destroying barns along the way. Authorities dispatched hundreds of people and deployed drones to try to track the herd’s journey, as many questioned why the elephants had travelled so far.

“These incidences are increasing in Asia, and it is likely due to a decrease in available resources and an increase in human disturbances in the elephants’ habitat,” said Plotnik. Methods such as physical barriers or moving elephants would only have a short-term impact, he added.

“If you don’t fulfil the elephants’ need for food, water and other resources in their natural habitat (or ensure they have them somewhere else), they will find ways around deterrents and access villages or cropfields in search of these resources.”