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Emergency plan for elephant conservation – the last hope for Vietnam’s wild elephants

November 13, 2016

(From WWF press release)
Also see by Michael Smith

Urgent actions to effectively conserve Vietnam’s remaining wild elephants, and the improvement of human- elephant conflict management practices, were discussed and agreed on by representatives from Dak Lak, Dong Nai, Nghe An provinces. These three provinces are home to the largest elephant populations in Vietnam. The conservation programs will be carried out by the Provincial People’s Committees and relevant departments with funding from the provinces’ elephant conservation programs. The Forestry Directorate will closely monitor and advise on program implementation with the intention of applying best practice to other provinces.

The conference ‘Strengthening wild elephant conservation and human- elephant conflict management in Vietnam’ was organized by the People’s Aid Coordinating Committee (PACCOM) and WWF- Vietnam, with support from Yok Don National Park. The conference gathered top Asian Elephant conservation experts from WWF, IUCN, India and Vietnam to share experiences and suggest specific solutions and recommendations to conserve wild elephant populations and minimise human- elephant conflict.

The remaining populations of wild elephants in Vietnam are small. According to recent estimates, Dak Lak has about 60- 65 individuals, Dong Nai has 14 – 15 individuals, and Nghe An has 10-11 individuals. The decline in wild elephant populations in Vietnam is the result of many causes. However, human- elephant conflict is an urgent issue that represents the biggest challenge to conservation.

Human- elephant conflict (HEC) occurs everywhere there are elephants, and it is very difficult to manage. The conflict becomes most acute in areas where people and elephants share limited resources. Rising human populations and the associated increases in demand for natural resources have put huge pressure on land, water, and especially forest resources, which has led to the shrinking, degradation and loss of the elephants’ habitat.

In Vietnam, HEC is becoming more serious, and is one of the causes leading to the decline of wild elephant populations that are already endangered, especially in Dak Lak, Dong Nai and Nghe An. In Dak Lak, since 2005, HEC has occurred in many communes in Buon Đon, Ea Sup and Ea H’Leo districts. Almost all instances are related to the depletion and fragmentation of forests, and subsequent loss of the forest corridors which enable elephants to forage for food and water. In just seven years, from 2009 to Jun 2016, Dak Lak lost 21 wild elephants. The rate of elephants dying increases in the dry season, especially in the Ea Sup Thuong Lake area. However, from a local person’s perspective, elephants are responsible for the devastation of crops and settlements, and more seriously, represent a threat to their safety.

“Wherever elephants and humans coexist, there will be conflict. This is inevitable. Elephants are intelligent and capable of learning and changing very quickly. To minimize conflict, we have to research and find out about the habits of each herd of elephants. Such knowledge is needed to develop the most appropriate measures”, said Dr. Vivek Menon, Executive Director & C.E.O of the Wildlife Trust of India.

Vietnam has a comprehensive legal framework for governing forest and wildlife conservation, which includes provisions for the conservation of wild elephants. However, elephant conservation activities have only been implemented since 2010, and attention has mainly focussed on the three provinces which are home to the remaining wild elephant populations. Therefore, knowledge about elephants’ behaviour and effective conservation methods are still limited in Vietnam. Consequently, HEC has not been managed effectively, with programs responding to effects on people and property, rather than on developing solutions to prevent, respond and mitigate HEC.

Urgent issues were raised and discussed by conference participants. Although elephant conservation is arduous, the conference outcomes will be important in developing action plans for the 3 provinces. Each province will develop action plans based on the specific conditions of their elephant population and its habitat.

“If Vietnam loses that beautiful animal, it will be very hard for us to call for investment from governments and foreign organizations for conservation activities. Therefore, this is a fight not only to protect the elephant, but also to protect Vietnam’s natural environment and diverse species”, said Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, WWF- Vietnam’s Country Director.

“The commitment and enthusiasm for elephant conservation is a precondition for its effectiveness. We cannot wait for projects to be approved, or for help from outside; we must take action now to save our wild elephants”, said Mr. Do Quang Trung, Director of Yok Don National Park.

Participants included representatives from the National Steering Committee of the Elephant Conservation Plan to 2020, related agencies from the Forestry Directorate, PACCOM, representatives of Dak Lak, Dong Nai, Nghe An and Binh Phuoc provincial Elephant Conservation Programmes. Also in attendance were various Dak Lak provincial departments, including the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Forest Protection Department, the External Relations Department, and the Border Guard Command Board. District and commune representatives from Ea Sup, Buon Don and Ea H’leo, including the Forestry Company in Ea Sup, also provided valuable contributions to the conference.

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