Laos, formerly known as the “land of a million elephants” is now home to only 1500 elephants. As with other parts of Asia, the wild elephants of Laos are threatened by poaching as well as the degradation of their natural habitat from agro-forestry, regional development and the expansion of agricultural practices. Deprived of natural habitat, more and more elephants are forced to enter cultivated areas to find sufficient food. This has seen the number of human-elephant conflicts increase sharply and causes the loss of harvests, the destruction of property and even sometimes the death of villagers. Unfortunately many rural communities feel they have no option but shoot offending elephants.
The disappearance of the Asian elephant from Laos would be a cultural tragedy for the nation. As with elsewhere in Asia, the elephant is sacred in Laos and is today still significant in many traditional ceremonies. If the local extinction of this species is allowed to occur, a fundamental component of ancient Laotian culture will disappear along with the elephant.
Utilised by humans for over 4000 years, the domesticated Asian elephant constitutes an important source of income for many Laotian families. More than 10,000 people live off the income generated by the work of the 500 domesticated elephants of Laos. The vast majority of work carried out by these elephants is in the logging industry, thus tragically contributing to the destruction of wild elephant habitat. The Lao tourism industry employs some domesticated elephants, with strong future growth in this sector predicted.
Data gathered through ElefantAsia’s conservation programs indicates elephant reproduction rates are dangerously low. With only 46 females under the age of 20 (the ‘genetic reservoir’ for the nation), the future of domesticated elephants in Laos is strongly compromised.
It is urgent to act now to protect the last remaining elephants of Laos. Both rural communities and decision-makers must support conservation programs to ensure long-term population viability. See our national public awareness campaign.
Only a comprehensive national program such as our elephant baby bonus program will make it possible to stop the extinction of this species occurring in Laos. The number of elephant births must be multiplied by at least three if Laos wishes to maintain a domesticated elephant population of 100 in the medium-term future. These goals can only be achieved if short-term economic losses are not taken into consideration and long-term goals are sought.
ElefantAsia also support the reconversion of domesticated elephants currently exploited in the logging industry, to more sustainable and humane practices. Employment in ethical tourism ventures will create work that is less physically demanding, ecologically sound and provide sustainable incomes for mahout families living and working with elephants.
For more information read our field of actions.
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