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Opening remarks

Masakazu Kashio

Forest Resources Officer, FAO, Bangkok

Dr R.B. Singh, Assistant Director-General of FAO and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific;

Mr Toshihiro Arai, President, Thai Sekisui Foam Co. Ltd;

Mr Manoonsak Tuntiwiwut, Deputy Managing Director, Forest Industry Organization, Thailand;

Asian elephant colleagues;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning everybody! On behalf of the organizer of the Workshop, FAO and the Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC), I would like to express my warm welcome to you all to the International Workshop on the Domesticated Asian Elephant.

Let me explain the background of this Workshop briefly. The initial idea of this Workshop was derived from the publication Gone astray: The care and management of the Asian elephant in domesticity, which we released in October 1997 under the authorship of Mr Richard Lair. Having an international meeting on the domesticated Asian elephant was one of the recommendations spelt out in this book. The first proposal was prepared in February 1998, and Richard and I started to find a sponsor, at the same time seeking partial funding support from FAO Headquarters in Rome. A few months later, we received a favourable response from the Smithsonian Institution in New York. We expected funds to be forthcoming by the beginning of 1999, but these never materialized.

During my home leave to Japan in the spring of 1999, I approached the Japan Wildlife Research Center in Tokyo with a Workshop proposal. Professor Satoo, the founder of JWRC, and Dr Komoda took my proposal very positively and we agreed to jointly apply for funding to Keidanren (the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations. A formal application was submitted in November 1999; it was approved in March 2000 and a sum of 5 million Yen (about US$48 000) was allocated to us. We were very fortunate in this attempt, because Professor Satoo was a board member of the application screening committee of the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund, and Dr Komoda used his considerable negotiation skills on our behalf. Without their strong support, the 11 country studies and the Workshop would not have been possible. In this regard, we would like to express our great thanks to them again.

To provide the necessary funds for the Workshop, we called for contributions from all over the world. As a result, we have received many kind contributions, not only in cash, but also in kind, as stated in the opening address of Dr Singh. For example, we received free air tickets from Thai Airways International, and the travelling costs of experts from India, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United State of America (USA) were also provided by other organizations or institutions. The members of the Organizing Committee would like to express our heart-felt appreciation to those donors again.

As an aside, I would like to mention that another follow-up of Gone astray is the Elephant Care Manual for Mahouts and Managers Project (MTF/THAI/001/IFW) for which we have been granted US$75 000 from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the USA-based NGO. This 18-month project started in June 2000 and the work is in progress based at the FIO's Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.

This Workshop, being the first international conference without a strictly veterinary focus, aims to discuss all of the larger management aspects of the domesticated Asian elephant in a neutral forum. The primary objectives of the Workshop are:

1. defining the situation;

2. identifying priority areas of work, especially in registration and national laws;

3. developing work plans for each identified priority area; and

4. developing a networking mechanism.

Some of you know the situations of domesticated Asian elephants in the respective countries or states where you live or work. Different countries, it seems, have both similar and unique problems. Some countries such as India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, have the capacity to launch programmes either using their own funds and manpower or with the assistance of donor agencies. On the other hand, others, such as Lao PDR, have little indigenous capacity. The elephant situation varies very much by countries, states and/or provinces, so please listen to the country presentations to widen your vision and deepen your understanding on the current situations of domesticated elephants throughout Asia.

We are proud to inform you that every country study has brought new information. The Cambodian study includes the first nation-wide population census on the country's domesticated elephants. This report has also made clear the critical declining trend of the wild elephant populations. Two studies in Thailand:"Street wandering elephants in Bangkok” and"Ecotourism and elephants” are unique and timely studies providing us with rich detail. At the same time, I recognize that there are many on-going projects supported by a government such as"Project Elephant” in India, or by foreign NGOs like Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), or in official aid programme like the United States Asian Elephant Project Fund, etc. These projects have helped our country studies a great deal.

There is an obvious linkage between wild and domesticated elephants. The former has been the major supplier to the latter historically, and even now this continues in some countries such as Myanmar. However, this supply role is diminishing. We can now see some initial activities to reverse the direction of the supply with domesticated elephants being released into the wild, for example in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Wild elephant conservation experts and their organizations have been fighting against further degradation and loss of elephant habitat. They are keen to establish more protected areas, and are working to solve human-elephant conflict, etc. Domesticated elephant groups have been working for elephant welfare and veterinary services. Both efforts are valuable and noble. However, we need better collaboration between these two groups and coordinated activities on the ground. This is one of the issues that we will discuss during the Workshop.

As you know, laws, regulations and registration systems provide the most basic institutional framework for action. If they are not updated to reflect the current socio-economic reality they can act as barriers to the implementation of appropriate actions. And without a proper institutional framework public funds and manpower cannot be properly allocated. This subject is also going to be discussed in this Workshop.

Our intention is to discuss such subjects in the Workshop to find a way to improve the situation of the domesticated elephant both at present and in the future. Ideally, we need a very wide range of Workshop participants (from wild elephant biologists to veterinary doctors (to ensure a comprehensive and balanced view and to come up with innovative solutions. Such a gathering would also provide an excellent opportunity to bring these groups closer together. In reality, however, we did not have the budget to invite everybody, and also the response from those groups whose focus is on the wild elephant was not so positive.

As this is a neutral forum of the United Nations, please feel free to express any opinions whatsoever on the issues of domesticated Asian elephants from every angle. Some participants from government or NGO organizations may have restrictions to express personal views on behalf of their organizations. The Organizing Committee of the Workshop, however, wishes you to act in your capacity as an individual expert, and not as a representative of the authorities and organizations that you belong to.

However, please keep in mind one important point, which is that your statements should be scientific, logical, rational and either supported by research works or facts that you have directly observed or experienced. Please avoid political propaganda, emotional arguments, and personal ego, because these are neither appropriate nor constructive to achieving the objectives of the Workshop.

In closing, may I acknowledge with grateful thanks the support we have received from the FAO Representative offices in ten countries, and the UNDP Office in Malaysia. They have been taking care of many humble administrative jobs between the FAO Bangkok Office and concerned government partners or individuals. The same thanks go to the international NGOs working for Asian elephants. They sponsored national counterpart staff and themselves. Some self-sponsored participants travelled all the way from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, UK, and USA for this Workshop. I appreciate their enthusiastic interest in the Asian elephant.

Lastly, I would like to convey to you the best wishes of Mr El Hadji Sène, Director of Forest Resources Division, Forestry Department, FAO, Rome. He was the key person who provided funds for the Gone Astray publication, which, as I mentioned earlier, was the origin of our Workshop. He sends you his greetings and wishes you a very successful outcome.

Thank you very much for your kind attention to my opening remarks.

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