Classroom Discussion Activity

Wild at Heart: The Plight of Elephants in Thailand

Elephants in Thailand have a big unemployment problem. Long a revered creature in traditional Asian cultures and a critical beast of burden for Asian economies, the captive elephant is becoming obsolete. Its plight has only worsened since 1989, when Thailand banned all logging operations, a major employer of these animals. Luckily, the thousands of captive elephants in Thailand have never been selectively bred and remain genetically wild. Watch how local and international scientists are reintroducing Asian elephants to the forest and reestablishing herd structures in hopes of reverting them to their most noble occupation—living wild.

Class Discussion

Establish prior Knowledge
Ask students what they know about Asian elephants. Tell them that they are a highly endangered species that face many threats: habitat loss, poaching, and capture of young for the entertainment and tourism industries. Point out that many Asian elephants live in captivity, but in the wild they are rare. Ask them to think about ways that an endangered species like the Asian elephant could be rescued.

Have students watch the feature and take notes on the process used by the scientists in the story to reintroduce elephants into the wild. Then have them read the essay, “Elephants Return to the Forest.” Use the following questions to guide a class discussion:
• Why are elephants being reintroduced to the forests of Thailand?
• What question do scientists have about this reintroduction?
• What do scientists hypothesize?
• How are scientists testing their hypothesis? Why was a baby male elephant added to the group of female elephants? How did this change the group?
• How are scientists collecting data about the reintroduced elephants?
• Based on their observations, what are the data showing so far?

Use the following question to wrap up your discussion.
• Do you think the reintroduction of elephants to the wild can be replicated in other parts of Thailand? Support your answer.

Students who want to learn more about elephants in Thailand can visit these websites:
Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Elephant Reintroduction Foundation:
UN FAO: Gone Astray—The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity:
World Wildlife Fund Thailand: