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Death of the Elephants

The discovery of the remains of three endangered Asian elephants in Mondulkiri’s Phnom Penh Prich Wildlife Sanctuary has prompted conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature to launch an investigation into the animals’ deaths.

Samrang Dy Vichet, director of the Wildlife Sanctuary, told the Post yesterday that villagers spotted the decaying carcasses on Sunday, leading patrol teams and WWF officers to begin their investigation on Monday.

“We have not discovered the cause of death yet, and we’re working to find it out,” Dy Vichet said yesterday, adding that the carcasses were found near one another.

Two of the carcasses were those of older females, while the third appeared to be much younger, he said.

Evidence gleaned from camera surveillance and DNA and water testing suggest between 120 and 170 elephants currently roam the sanctuary.

The WWF yesterday refused to divulge details as its team was still in the jungle.

“Our officers are still at the scene; we need to [investigate] this case very carefully and very seriously. This can be a very sensitive issue,” said Tep Asnarith, director of communications for WWF in Cambodia, adding the organisation would be releasing an official press release today.

While the cause of death has yet to be confirmed, Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at the NGO Wildlife Alliance, reasoned that if the bodies were found near one another and all were female, their cause of death was likely mired in foul play.

“An educated guess is if they have been dead for several weeks and found in close proximity to one another, you can deduce they did not die of natural causes nor were they killed for ivory,” Marx said yesterday, explaining that female Asian elephants don’t have tusks like their male counterparts.

In contrast, male and female African elephants both have tusks, which remain prized by poachers supplying a still-voracious demand for ivory worldwide.

Jack Highwood, head of the Mondulkiri-based NGO Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment, highlighted the Kindgom’s dwindling elephant population, emphasising the species’ importance to Cambodian history at large.

“Cambodia’s elephants are an incredibly rare and finite resource, we only have a small number left and now is the time protect them, not hunt them,” Highwood said, noting the national population was less than 300.

“A loss of any of these animals is a tragedy for all involved in conservation efforts,” Highwood said.

Asian elephants historically found throughout the continent are now extinct in West Asia, Java and most of China, clinging to survival in only 13 Asian countries, according to WWF data.