Conservation benefits of population management

Conservation benefits of population management

Constituting up to one-third of all remaining Asian elephants, the global population of captive elephant (estimated between 14,500 – 16,000) is significantly important to the survival of the species, elephas maximus.

In Laos, there are around 480 elephants in captivity and an estimated wild population of 400. Both populations are in severe decline.

To improve population management, ElefantAsia has undertaken a national census in Laos of the captive elephants, creating a national registration database. With over 95% of all captive elephants in Laos now registered, the database therefore has become an invaluable tool to safeguard elephant populations for the future, with analysis of the data collated giving us a better understanding of population demographics, as well as assisting to determine future management of the captive population.

Data collected shows that the captive elephant population in Laos is aging and faces many other challenges including a declining number of females of reproductive age (as few as 60 cows of breeding age remain), a lack of breeding opportunities and more recently, excessive exportation of calves and young females by the Lao government for diplomatic purposes. A recently published Population Viability Analysis study of the captive elephants in Laos indicates that their extinction could be a reality in less than 120 years.

With elephant deaths in Laos far exceeding births (around 4 deaths to every birth), reproduction is paramount to the survival of the captive elephant population and as such ElefantAsia implements the Elephant Breeding Programme at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury. Under this programme, we offer free breeding opportunities with local bull elephants, as well as a safe haven for pregnant or nursing females and their calves. Promotion of opportunities in soft tourism for mothers and calves also allows mahouts to breed their elephants without a loss of income.

Effective management of the captive population has been proven to be beneficial to the survival of the species, so the database benefits wild elephants too, a sustainable captive population working to reduce the risk of the illegal capture and taming of wild elephants whilst also providing an important genetic reservoir. Despite little success at present, ElefantAsia continues to campaign again the exportation of Laotian elephants to foreign countries. Working in a country under a single party regime sadly this is fraught with challenges, however we endeavour to create awareness within the Lao government as to the negative impact exportation has on the country's remaining elephant population.

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