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Elephant deaths spark security boost, Laos

mardi 24 mars 2009, par Sébastien Duffillot

(Vientiane Times, 27 March 2009) - Local authorities will beef up village security forces to protect wild elephants from poaching in Phou Khaokhouay, or ‘ Buffalo Horn Mountain ’, National Protected Area after five elephants were shot dead a few weeks ago.

Villagers said two of the five elephants died in Ban Na in Thaphabath district of Borikhamxay province.

The remainder, including a juvenile, were found in Ban Yangkheua in the same district. Ban Na, located 82km south of Vientiane , relies heavily on tourism income derived from its pachyderms. The town boasts an elephant observation tower which has proven popular with visitors wanting to see elephants in their natural environment. While the motivation for the killing has yet to be proven, officials suspect commercial motives. Poachers usually kill elephants for their valuable body parts, namely tusks, trunks, teeth and tails.

Deputy Head of Phou Khaokhuay National Protected Area, Mr That Keothone, said authorities were still analysing the bullets for clues. “We are encouraging people in the 10 villages living nearby the protected area to be our ‘eyes and ears’, as well as to report strange sightings or incidents to authorities immediately,” he said.

Yesterday, district authorities met with residents of the 10 villages to discuss preventive measures as well as how to boost villagers’ participation in the protection of elephants from poaching. Head of tour guides at Ban Na, Mr Bounthanom Inthilath, said Thaphabath district’s Agriculture, Forestry and Tourism Office had issued a notice barring villagers from interfering with the elephant remains.

“Those who interfere with the dead elephants will be considered to have been associated with the crime,” he said. “At the meeting we agreed to add extra village security force patrols to protect the conservation area. The reason is because village security men know a lot about the protected area.”

People in Ban Na say the elephants are their most important source of income, and losing them would mean hardship for many. Mr Bounthanom said the villagers had been earning income from tourists coming to watch wild elephants since the opening of the elephant observation tower in April, 2005.

Villagers benefited from domestic and overseas visitors who spent money on home-stay accommodation, tower entry fees, village tour guides, food and the purchase of hand-made products and souvenirs from the village. Mr Bounthanom said last year the village earned about 100 million kip from tourists coming to see the elephants. “More tourists now want to see the elephants, but my concern is that if elephants are scared of poachers, they won’t come to the tower and finally no tourists will come here. All of us will be affected,” he said.

It was unclear how many wild elephants there are in Phou Khaokhouay, but Mr Bounthanom said about 40 elephants were reported in 2005. Meanwhile, officials said one elephant was also reported killed in Phou Phanang National Protected Area. They called for urgent attention from the relevant sectors to address the issue.

Vientiane Times, 27 March 2009


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