At least six wild Asian elephants died in southern Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park after trying to save each other from a waterfall, Reuters reported on Saturday.
According to the BBC, the incident began when a baby elephant fell into the waterfall, which is known as Haew Narok (Hell’s Fall) and in 1992 was the scene of a similar incident that ended in the deaths of eight elephants. Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) said that they were alerted to the incident at around 3:00 a.m. local time on Saturday; some three hours later, they discovered the body of the three-year-old elephant and five others.
According to a DNP post on Facebook, two surviving elephants were rescued on the cliff side of the waterfall trying to go down. DNP veterinarians are attending to the animals.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand founder Edwin Wiek told the BBC that the two remaining elephants in the herd may now be at risk, adding that the elephants’ well-known mourning behaviors may further stress the animals: “It’s like losing half your family. There’s nothing you can do, it’s nature unfortunately.”
“It was an accident,” National Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa told Reuters. “We have often seen this happening.”
The 772-square-mile (2,000-square-kilometer) park is home to approximately 300 wild elephants and countless other species ranging from bears to gibbons, according to Reuters. Around half of Thailand’s 7,000 estimated remaining wild elephants live in captivity, where the vast majority are subject to conditions World Animal Protection researchers deemed “severely inadequate” in a 2017 study. The IUCN Red List classified the species as endangered with a population estimated in 2003 at 41,410-52,345 individuals, with other research claiming that number is a wild guess.
Numbers have been trending “downwards, probably for centuries,” IUCN wrote, with threats including habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Additional threats to the species include regular contact with some of the densest human populations on the planet, leading to hundreds of annual elephant and human deaths from conflict as well as poaching that threatens the survival of some elephant groups.