The bodies of five more wild elephants have been discovered below a steep waterfall in Khao Yai National Park in central Thailand, officials said Tuesday, bringing to 11 the number believed to have been swept away over the weekend after a calf slipped and the others tried to save it.
Park officials discovered the additional bodies Monday when they flew a drone over the waterfall, which descends 260 feet and is known as Hell’s Abyss, in a search for two elephants believed to have survived the disaster.
This is the worst such episode for the park’s wild elephants in recent memory. A similar disaster killed eight elephants in 1992.
The director of the national park, Kanchit Srinoppawan, said it appeared that the elephants had been crossing a swollen creek after heavy rains when a 3-year-old slipped and the others tried to rescue it.
“We believe that the elephants were trying to help the baby,” he said. “They are forest animals that live in a group, and when one member is facing problems or needs help, they will come to help.”
He added: “We believe that the death of all these elephants happened at the same time because they wanted to save the little one.”
There were no witnesses to the episode, but park officials have said that the animals’ tracks at the scene and their typical behavior supported the belief that the adults were trying to help the calf and one another.
Elephant trumpeting early Saturday alerted rangers to the disaster and two surviving elephants were spotted.
A photograph released by the Department of National Parks showed an elephant trying to rouse one of the dead.
Elephants are known to have close family ties and to grieve when a member of their herd dies.
Later Saturday, the two surviving elephants were trapped for a time in the canyon before finding their way out after dark.
Officials had feared that those elephants had also later perished. But Kanchit said it appeared they were safe: A park vendor saw two elephants matching their description Monday evening.
The park in central Thailand, about 80 miles northeast of Bangkok, is home to about 170 of Thailand’s 3,000 wild elephants.
The park had installed fencing to prevent elephants from crossing too close to the waterfall, but that proved insufficient over the weekend.
Kanchit said officials would consider other means of keeping the animals safe, with a bridge over the creek being one possible option.
The elephants might have expected an easier crossing, he said, since the weather is usually drier at this time of year.
“We have to look at climate change, too,” he said. “In past years, there was not so much water when they crossed. But this year, the rainy season came later.”
Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, said he hoped that the herd was larger than the 13 known members and that the two elephants that survived, a mother and a calf, were not all alone.
“Only two survivors out of a herd of 13 is so sad for the two survivors,” he said.