The Central Highlands, located by the five provinces of Đắk Lăk, Đắk Nông, Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Lâm Đồng, is home to most of wild elephants in the country. Elephant, through generations, is very close to the people of the Central Highlands and also symbolizes the region. The total number of Central Highlands elephants has decreased sharply in recent years as their living environment contracts due to people’s expansion of living activities. Unless better measures are conducted, the Central Highlands elephants will be extinct very soon.

    The total quantity of elephants inhabiting in Việt Nam in general and the Central Highlands in particular has steeply declined year after year. In 1990s, there were about 1.500 - 2.000 wild elephants in Việt Nam but now the number has fallen to 124 - 148 individuals and they are mostly seen in the provinces of Son La, Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Nam, Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Đồng Nai and Bình Phước. In those provinces, only three habitats are home to at least 10 elephants, which are the Pù Mát National Park and its adjacency in Nghệ An Province (13 - 15 individuals); the Cát Tiên National Park, the Đồng Nai Natural and Cultural Reserve and La Ngà - Đồng Nai Forestry Co Ltd (14 individuals); the Yok Đôn National Park in Đắk Lắk Province (80 - 100 individuals).

    According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), there were 91 raised elephants in 2018 in 11 cities and provinces of the country, down from 165 individuals in 2000. Đắk Lăk, known as “the capital of raised elephants”, also saw a steep decline in the number of the species. In 1979 - 1980, there were 502 tamed elephants in Đắk Lăk; the number fell by total 364 individuals in 20 years to 299 individuals in 1990, 169 individuals in 1997 and 138 individuals in 2000. In 2018, the number of raised elephants in Đắk Lăk Province was only 45.


Habitat run-out for wild elephants

    According to experts, the key, vital matter in the preservation of wild elephants is to sustain their habitats. But we have seen primary forests - the fundamental habitat for elephants - are largely explored, exploited and invaded by people and they are contracting in both size and quality. Statistics by MARD’s Administration of Forestry, the total area of natural forest in the Central Highlands plunged 358.700 hectares in seven years from 2008 to 2014, equal to an average loss of 51.200 hectares per year. Of the total figure, 94.814 hectares of the forest or 26,4 percent of the total area was lost to the plantation of rubber, industrial plants and fruit trees; 33.706 hectares or 9,39 percent of the total area was lost to the construction of hydro power plants, transportation infrastructure and public facilities; 88.603 hectares or 24,6 percent of the total area was lost to expansion activities in which people explore the land for farming.

    As the habitat and food for elephants scale down, there have been dangerous encounters between elephants and people. As they prefer long-distance move, elephants cross by plantation areas and destroy vegetables and facilities, causing damages to people’s business and living conditions. In recent years, there have been incidents in which wild elephants travel from the forest to farming areas for food and threaten the lives and assets of local residents. In 2013, a herd of 17 individual wild elephants marched towards the centre of Ea Sup District and they were only 5 km away from the District centre. Prior to 2012, wild elephants often came and destroyed vegetables in Ea H’Le Commune of Ea H’leo District as people had explored the forest and demolished their habitat.

Overused, unproductive raised elephants

    The use of raised elephants for tourism and production is also a threat to the species. A study of the Asia Animal Foundation revealed that raised elephants at Buôn Đôn and Lắk Lake tourism sites have to work 6 - 8 hours a day to carry 2 - 3 visitors a trip to cross the Sêrêepôk River or visit the Yok Đôn National Park. During holidays and festivals, more visitors come and elephants don’t have a break. The fare for each elephant ride is between VND 400.000 and VND 600.000 and revenue is shared between the company and the elephant owner. As the elephants prove highly profitable, they become vulnerable to the overuse done by the companies and the owners.

    In addition, it is difficult for reproduction because most of raised elephants are old (more than 35 years) and they have no room for mating. Under the Đắk Lăk elephant conservation project, the owners will get paid when their elephants give birth to calves. But in the past 30 years, raised elephants in Đắk Lăk have barely given birth to any calves because they are kept apart by owners, so mating are almost impossible. Efforts were made to make three females pregnant but the three calves died at birth because the mothers were too old for the first time pregnancy.

Increased demand of elephant products

    Illegal elephant poaching has rocketed in the last few decades as demand of ivory and tail hair for jewelry production rises. International organizations have warned the trading of elephant products, including ivory, is the biggest, most dangerous threat to bring the species to extinction. A 2016 study by the Save Elephant Foundation said 1.965 items put up for sale in 24 of 49 studied stores in Buôn Ma Thuột were ivory and other elephant products. A study in Buôn Đôn also showed that 16 of 23 traditional furniture stores offered 703 souvenirs made from ivory and other parts of the elephant with prices ranging from VND 200.000 to VND 8 million each item.

    Despite strong efforts by the government agencies, illegal elephant poaching is not tackled and trading of ivory and elephant products remains public and common. According to the wild animal conservation organization WildAct, nearly 21.,000 elephant products - including ivory and tail hair - were put up for sale on the social media in six months from mid-2015 to early 2016. Ivory-made jewelry was the most popular product, accounting for 69 percent of all items advertised on Facebook, while sellers of ivory products also offered tail hair for sale.

Emergency plan on elephant conservation needed

    Việt Nam has executed some plans, programs and projects on elephant conservation quite soon, however, the government’s efforts are not enough to stop the decline of the species. In the 1990s, under MARD’s Decision No. 1204/NN-LN-QD dated July 16, 1996, the Vietnam Elephant Conservation Action Plan 1996 - 1998 was implemented to protect the species in Đắk Lăk. Under the plan, the forest management plan was reviewed, the natural reserve was rebuilt, technical assistance was provided to guarantee the habitats for elephants, regulations were updated and developed to stop illegal poaching and trading of wild animals, local authorities were asked to solve the incidents between the human and elephants and the local media had to popularize the conservation activities to the people.

    After that, under the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 733/QD-TTg dated May 16, 2006, the Elephant conservation action plan to 2010 was initiated. After five years of implementation, there were some positive results, including the completion of the elephant conservation project for Đắk Lăk, Đồng Nai and Nghệ An where a majority of elephants were inhabiting and the establishment of the Đắk Lăk Elephant Conservation Centre to take care of the species.

    In 2012, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 940/QD-TTg on July 29 approving the Emergency elephant conservation action plan to 2020. In May 2013, the Prime Minister approved total funding of VND 278 billion for the Việt Nam elephant conservation master plan for 2013 - 2020 under Decision No. 763/QD-TTg with sponsorship of the State budget and foreign individuals and organizations. According to MARD, the project by 2018 had seen illegal poaching decline, the number of elephants had increased, and encounters between human and elephants were limited.

   At local level, the Đắk Lăk People’s Committee in 2010 approved the elephant conservation project for 2010 - 2015 with total investment of VND 61 billion. The project aimed at sustainable management of wild elephants, increasing the number of raised elephants, preservation of local tradition and culture and education for people on the environmental protection. In 2013, the provincial people’s committee approved the “Đắk Lăk elephant conservation emergency plan until 2020” with total funding of nearly VND 85 billion to replace the previous project.

    To protect and develop the Central Highlands elephants, we recommend the prioritization of the following solutions:

    Test the sample of turd to address the location and calculate the number of elephants as well as their gender and age structures. In addition, the habitats must be evaluated and the ability of on-site conservation for the elephants. We suggest the elephants are tracked with electronic device.

    Study the possibility of creating a corridor to connect small herds together and consider moving those small herds from other areas to the Yok Đôn National Park.

   Study seasonal moves and destinations; assess the quality of the habitats regarding the environment and the reserves of food, water and minerals. Elephant prefers to move from one place to another, so an agreement on cross-border conservation between Việt Nam and Cambodia should be signed to manage the species’ movement.

    Evaluate the level and cause of human-elephant encounters to develop solutions to prevent similar cases from happening. We suggest local authorities build trench and electric fence to stop elephants from crossing into the farming areas. Local residents are encouraged to grow the plants that are not favored by elephants and improve their awareness to avoid confronting and better protect the animal.

    Preserve the habitat to develop the number of wild elephants in Đắk Lăk Province, especially; we have to save a 173.000-hectare land area for them to live, move and feed.

   Stop illegal poaching by enhancing the law enforcement and strictly punish hunters and traders to prevent trading of elephant products. Local people of Lắk and Buôn Đôn districts are advised to improve the habitat and better take care of raised elephants as these two places are the only in the Province that have raised elephants.

    Improve the healthcare services for the species, especially support for birth delivery.


Nguyễn Thu Hằng và Đỗ Minh Phương

People and Nature Reconciliation

(Nguồn: Bài đăng trên Tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh II/2020)


     The Yok Đôn National Park in Đắk Lăk Province’s Buôn Đôn District will receive US$ 65.000 from Animals Asia in a five-year period between 2018 and 2023 to change from elephant riding to other elephant-friendly tourism activities. The localities are encouraged to take visitors to the forest to study the life of elephants, watch them do daily activities and even walk with them in the forest. Traditional activities such as riding will be prohibited to avoid negative effects on the elephants.

Thống kê

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