Elephant conservationist Tuy Sereivathana was one of six people to be awarded the prestigious 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize yesterday for his innovative work in preserving Cambodia’s endangered pachyderms.
Mr Sereivathana, leader of the Fauna and Flora International’s Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group, was honored for his low-cost solutions for protecting elephants, such as organizing community night watches for elephant raiders, barriers made out of chili peppers—which elephants detest—and stressing the importance of the religious significance of the animal, to help elephants and human co-habitate in Cambodia.
Because elephants and rural populations often cross paths, with the animals able to wreck large amounts of crops, “revenge killings” of elephants are known to occur, according to a statement from FFI yesterday.
“As a result of Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group involvement, there has not been a single confirmed elephant death due to human-elephant conflict since 2005,” the statement said.
Mr Sereivathana was awarded his prize yesterday in San Francisco with a second ceremony planned for Wednesday in Washington.
Mon Samut, research and education team leader of the elephant group, said yesterday by telephone that elephant conservation is very important for the country as it can help preservation efforts of other animals.
“It means when we can conserve the elephants, we can help other animal species because they can live in the same area,” he said.
Mr Samut added that the group teaches local people living in elephant habitat areas ways to avoid clashing with the large animals such as changing the crops they grow.
“We provide advice to [farmers] to plant crops elephants don’t like and offer seeds to them,” he said.
Elephants love sugar cane and bananas, which leads them to sometimes destroy farmers’ crops, Mr Samut said, adding the group suggests growing chili peppers and taro, which don’t appeal to the animals.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, Asian elephants are classified as “endangered.” It is estimated that 250 to 600 elephants still live in Cambodia, but the overall population of the animals is decreasing.