A weekend of elephants – and of seeing the effect of policy

Posted on 25 March 2013

By Heather Sohl
By Heather Sohl

Sometimes when people think policy, they think boring – talking about document wording, and who’s saying what on which issues. For me it’s exciting – there’s a rush when a delegate repeats on the floor what you’ve said in the lunch break – and highly important, because without the right policies in place you can’t hope to achieve everything you want to out in the field.

This weekend, I took the opportunity to go into the field where WWF works in Kuiburi National Park, Thailand. The weekend is supposed to be a time for relaxing during the full-on two weeks of the CITES CoP (or for more working groups for the unlucky few), but I couldn’t turn this down. So I set my alarm early, but thankfully traded my smart shoes and blackberry for walking shoes and binoculars.

My colleagues and I joined a patrol of army soldiers, rangers and special forces that were going out for three days straight – we only joined them for about 90 minutes though! Their job is to protect the elephants from poachers seeking ivory, and in the last year alone they’ve caught 12 poachers.

The patrol carried large, heavy backpacks with everything they needed for three days in the jungle. Yet they still walked faster than us, and probably only stopped so frequently because of the ‘tourists’! I certainly wouldn’t want to be a poacher bumping into them.

WWF helps bring together the different government departments to collaborate in the fight against the poachers. Border officers are also there to help guard the porous border with Myanmar. We help set up effective monitoring, and provide most of the equipment for the patrol (hence the panda logo on the backpack).

We were lucky enough to see almost 30 wild Asian elephants the day before. It was intoxicating to look at the beauty of these huge animals, with such majesty in their movements and such strong family units.

When we saw the ‘tusker’ ahead of us on the road it was truly distressing to think a poacher would cold-heartedly look at such an experience as an opportunity for profit. We were just in awe.

It seemed a long way from the air conditioned conference rooms to the hot, sweaty jungle. The agreements made on elephants at the CoP help improve national wildlife laws, enhance enforcement, increase penalties, and enact demand reduction strategies.

If the governments are really committed (and we’re still pushing for that compliance!), this will help to give those elephants a better future than ending up as ivory carvings.
The wildlife wasn’t just on the ground – hence why we’re peering up into the canopy.
© © Christiaan van der Hoeven
The patrol getting ready; the rangers were going out into the forest for three days to search for poachers.
© © Heather Sohl
Three Asian elephants wandering through the forest. Here was the reason for all the policy – protecting these magnificent animals.
© © Christiaan van der Hoeven