return icon Vietnamnet.vn

A dying breed: Dak Lak elephants set for better welfare

More elephants in the Central Highlands of Vietnam are set to retire from their laborious and controversial work in tourism from 2022, amid growing concern over the welfare of this extraordinary animal that is on the brink of extinction.

{keywords}
An elephant exploited to carry tourists in Lak District. VNS Photos Duong Minh Hoang

There are now just 37 domesticated elephants living in three districts of Buon Don, Lak and Krong A Na in Dak Lak Province, once a safe haven for the majestic wild mammal.

The province has cooperated with Animals Asia, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for long-term changes in animal welfare in China and Vietnam, to end elephant riding in the tourism sector.

The agreement between the two sides on developing an elephant-friendly tourism model was signed in late 2021, and will be effective for five years.

Under the agreement, Dak Lak will take action to minimise and end activities, “with concerns for elephants welfare”. This includes riding, elephant-related games such as swimming, football and racing, elephant parades on asphalt or concrete roads, and the use of elephants to recreate hunting scenes.

The domesticated elephant population in the central highlands province has experienced a precipitous decline over the past four decades and has reached a concerning level.

The number dropped by more than 90 per cent in 1980-2021, equivalent to 465 elephants lost, or an average of 11 deaths a year. 

Domesticated elephant population in Dak Lak Province
 
Dak Lak experiences a precipitous decline in domesticated elephants in the last four decades. An average of 11 elephants die a year in the period. 

Recovering the declining domesticated herds is a vain hope, as there has not been a successful birth of a domesticated elephant in the whole country in the last 30 years.

“Unless we do something about conserving elephants, I'm afraid that, in a generation or two, we will lose the elephants in Vietnam,” said Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam Director of Animals Asia.

Dak Lak is where most elephants in the country are found and are often used in various cultural and festival settings.

“When talking about elephants, we think of Dak Lak. That's why it is important to implement the initiative there,” Bendixsen said.

Amid growing concern over the declining elephant population and calls for better welfare for the animals, the local authorities are expanding an ethical elephant-tour model that was first introduced in the province in 2018. 

No more chains, overwork or poor diets

Elephants are considered an animal of great cultural, religious and economic significance in Vietnam, especially among certain ethnic minorities where they are used for a variety of purposes, including transporting logs and other heavy products, or for the purposes of tourism. In some parts of the country, elephants are used in zoos, circuses and at festivals.

Over-exploitation, lack of human resources in conservation and elephant-human conflicts are major reasons leading to the declining population, while the advancing age of female elephants is a challenge to reproduction efforts in Dak Lak.

According to the province’s Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC), of the 37 individuals elephants, only four are under 30 years old, and they are all male. The ages of the female elephants, which form half the population, range from 34 to 66, which is not ideal for breeding.

The 30-year hope to revive the elephants was crushed when the first baby conceived by a domesticated elephant in the country in three decades died during birth from a 38-year-old elephant in 2017.

The centre has proposed to bring four female domesticated elephants from Myanmar to breed with Dak Lak elephants but COVID-19 has disrupted the progress.

Currently, the 37 elephants are kept by several organisations and individuals with the ECC owning the most (5), followed by an individual in Lak District and a tour company in Buon Don District, which own four each, and Yok Don National Park (3).

Tran Xuan Phuoc, director of the ECC, said locals had often used elephants for transporting timber or riding services.

“They often had to overwork with little time to rest and were not properly fed,” he said.

Director Bendixsen said: “Elephants used in riding spend many hours in the hot sun, sometimes on concrete ground, which is not good for their feet, and they’ve been asked to carry a heavy load, and then they are not fed at all."

When they are not riding, they are chained up, just stand in one place and are not able to move around. This makes many elephants become frail and sick. They are not well in terms of both physical and mental health, he said. 

Buon Don is the district with the largest number of domesticated elephants in Dak Lak Province

“It's important to move them to either a forest setting or a place where they can be free to move around and act like an elephant,” he added.

Director Phuoc said: “Locals are becoming more aware of the need to treat the animals better and are willing to work with the government and organisations to improve the situation.”

A lack of conservation specialists and qualified facilities is also among the challenges in conserving the elephants in the province.

“There is no real expertise in the country to look after or care for the elephants. So anytime that there's an injured elephant, we need to step in to help with the veterinary care,” Bendixsen said.

Currently, the ECC, which is in charge of 37 domesticated and around 100 wild elephants, is run by 15 staff. Only five of them have a specialisation, three vets and two zoo technicians.

Director of the centre Phuoc said it was crucial to cooperate with international organisations in human resources training to improve the care, treatment and conservation of the giant mammals.

It is expected that the new elephant-friendly tourism model will ensure better welfare for the wild animals. 

When the elephants go to this model, the owners are compensated for income loss.

“We hope that once people know about this model, we will get more tourists coming to see the elephants roaming free in the forest, naturally behaving like an elephant," said Bendixsen.

"It is expected that the tourists will also bring an income for Dak Lak and the reputation of the natural park in the province, which will also benefit. 

“It's going to be a win-win for everyone when the elephants are removed from riding, into an elephant-friendly tourism model," he said.

Free roaming in natural habitat  

In July 2018, Yok Don National Park became the first in Vietnam to stop elephant-riding, replacing it with a new tour that enables tourists to observe elephants in their natural habitat.

Under a full-day tour, costing US$80 per adult, visitors can enjoy a day exploring the forest and seeing elephants freely roaming in the national park.

They can see how the elephants, which used to give rides to tourists, really behave in their own environment. With this tour, travellers have the chance to learn more about elephants, their personalities, their background and why they are living in Yok Don, as well as stories from the people who take care of them.

{keywords}
An elephant plays in a pond in Yok Don National Park.

Besides elephant sightseeing, tourists can join treks in the jungle, learn about plants and wildlife, or even encounter signs of wild elephants in the park.

Vu Duc Gioi, deputy director of the Environmental Education and Services Centre of Yok Don National Park, said the new tourism model would improve welfare for elephants, helping them improve their health.

“It also gives an environment for elephants to live in a herd as in nature, and increases their reproduction chances,” he said.

Among 30 groups of tourists asked to give feedback on the ethical elephant experience in 2021, seven gave a mark of four out of five and the rest gave five, indicating huge satisfaction with the tours.

"The number of tourists joining the new elephant tours has also increased," Gioi said.

Director Bendixsen said: “We're hoping that once these models get going, people will see the benefits of not only seeing elephants in a natural environment but also, hopefully, they're going to be educated about how and why they should treat animals better.

“What we would like from the public, is to support the project by coming to Dak Lak and refusing to get involved in elephant riding, or any kind of tourism that uses wildlife or animals."

Source: Vietnam News

Dak Lak elephants need better protection

Dak Lak elephants need better protection

Dak Lak is considered the country’s ‘elephant metropolis with 140 elephants, both wild and domestic. However, the number of ‘nanny’ elephants there is alarmingly low, which has affected the conservation of the local herd of elephants.

Elephant rides for tourists in Dak Lak to end soon

Elephant rides for tourists in Dak Lak to end soon

Dak Lak will put an end to activities affecting the welfare of domestic elephants, including tourist elephant rides, competitions for elephants, marches for hours, or recreation of hunting and taming scenes with elephants.

MORE NEWS

Chief of Staff of Japan Air Self-Defence Force visits Vietnam

Deputy Minister of National Defense and Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army Sen. Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Tan Cuong received Izutsu Shunji, Chief of Staff of Japan Air Self-Defence Force, in Hanoi on June 28.

19 foreign airlines to run routes to Da Nang over coming months

Up to 19 foreign airlines are set to operate international routes both to and from Da Nang City of Vietnam between July 1 and October 29, according to the city’s authorities on June 28.

Noi Bai Airport overwhelmed by rising passenger numbers

The number of passengers passing through Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi has reached a record number, exceeding the airport’s design capacity.

Aviation industry forecast to fully recover in 2025

It is not until 2025 that the local aviation sector can fully recover due to rising fuel prices and the slower-than-expected reopening of international markets, according to domestic airlines.

VIETNAM NEWS HEADLINES JUNE 28

Hanoi airport faces serious congestion during summer peak

Hanoi and Hoi An among Top 25 Overall Experiences in Asia

Motorbike tours around Hanoi and cooking classes in Hoi An have made it into the Top 25 Overall Experiences in Asia, as voted on by readers of TripAdvisor.

Vietnam, Hungary seal judicial cooperation deal for 2022-2023

Vietnamese Minister of Justice Le Thanh Long and his Hungarian counterpart Judit Varga on June 27 signed a cooperation programme between the two ministries for the 2022-2023 period.

India conglomerate pledges to invest 10 billion USD in Vietnam

A joint venture between India’s Adani Group and Vietnam’s Anh Phat Investment Construction & Trading JSC has been approved by authorities of Da Nang to start studying the development of a major seaport in the central city.

VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS JUNE 28

Govt approves appointment of contractors for North-South expy project

HCM City hi-tech park to speed up investment procedures

HCM City will focus on helping businesses invest in the Saigon Hi-tech Park in Thu Duc City by addressing slow administrative procedures, a conference on facilitating investment heard on June 27.

Korea, Vietnam to mark 30th anniversary of relations with cultural events

The Korea Content Creation Agency in Vietnam will organise a series of cultural-entertainment events this year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

HCM City to promote AI in education sector

HCM City will need to promote the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the education sector as part of its effort to become a smart city by 2030, experts said.

Additionally-registered and share-purchased FDI soars sharply in first half of 2022

Despite newly-registered FDI dropping in the first half of the year, additionally-registered and share-purchased investments increased significantly on-year.

Vietnam joins hands with France to renovate Hanoi’s Long Bien bridge

Vietnamese and French experts will join hands to renovate Hanoi City’s deteriorating Long Bien Bridge in the coming months.

Lessons learned from urban railway projects

The urban railway projects that have been and are under construction are all behind schedule, so the total investment must be adjusted.
back_to_top