|Customs check an illegal cargo of ivory at a port of Việt Nam. WWF is launching the Asian Elephant Alliance (AEA) to secure a future of elephant habitats and conservation of wild elephant populations. — Photo courtesy of ENV|
ĐÀ NẴNG — WWF is launching the Asian Elephant Alliance (AEA) to secure a future in which loss and fragmentation of elephant habitats is reduced, people and elephants live side by side in a sustainable way, and wild elephant populations are stable.
The Alliance calls for partnership and collective action as it acknowledges that the challenges faced by the elephants in our region cannot be solved in isolation. Improved research, monitoring, protection and management are the key focused areas of AEA.
WWF released a statement on this World Elephant Day, setting out the new initiative and events to celebrate World Elephant Day (August 12).
Known as ecosystem engineers and gardeners of the forest, wild Asian elephants play a crucial role in dispersing seeds and nutrients, creating pathways in dense forests, and changing the forest habitat for the benefit of other animals. Even their footprints form small ecosystems that serve as habitats for organisms.
But these beautiful species are globally endangered, particularly threatened in Southeast Asia and China, with only about 8,000 - 11,000 wild Asian elephants spread across eight range countries - Cambodia, southern China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Việt Nam.
Out of those nations, Việt Nam has the fewest wild elephants left, with an estimated population of just over 100 nationwide. The largest population is found in Yók Đôn National Park, in the central highlands province of Đắk Lắk. These last survivors face a stampede of threats – including conflict with people – made worse by habitat loss and degradation and obstacles to their movements across the landscape.
“Most of the wild elephant populations in Việt Nam are small and isolated, hence urgent action is needed to save this species from the brink of extinction. Joining the AEA is one of our recent efforts to support the Government of Việt Nam as well as to mobilise the international community to conserve the elephant populations in Việt Nam,” said Nguyễn Văn Trí Tín, Wildlife Lead of WWF-Vietnam.
In Việt Nam, WWF will bring in resources to achieve three pillars of the AEA: Securing Elephant Habitats, which focuses on protecting, managing, connectivity and restoring priority elephant habitats; Living with Elephants, which aims to manage human-elephant conflict in an integrated and holistic manner for human-elephant coexistence; and Restoring Elephant Populations, which looks to bring elephant populations in the country up to viable and stable levels through enhancing site-based protection efforts and improving wildlife management.
Run for elephants
One of the WWF-Vietnam projects, the USAID Biodiversity Conservation Activity, a part of the Sustainable Forest Management and Biodiversity Conservation Project (VFBC) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is set to support the Nông Sơn Run in the heart of central Quảng Nam Province.
This event rallies over 700 runners and conservation enthusiasts to amplify the urgent messages for wild elephant conservation. The spotlight will shine brightly on the Elephant Species Habitat Conservation Area (Elephant SHCA), a vital project site of Quảng Nam Province, and through which part of the run will pass through.
There is a population of eight elephants inside the Elephant SHCA, with an area of nearly 19,000ha of natural forest. Such a small population is at risk of the negative effects of inbreeding, genetic anomalies, and vulnerability to diseases.
Through the run, USAID Biodiversity Conservation is highlighting the critical importance of safeguarding the Asian elephants’ natural habitat.
“Elephants are a resilient and long-living species, but when populations shrink to such small sizes, their persistence is in serious doubt. These last eight elephants represent both a stark reminder of the enormous conservation challenge that lies ahead, and a symbol of the hope that with concerted effort, we can restore their habitat and remove the threats that threaten their survival,” said Nick Cox, Chief of Party, USAID Biodiversity Conservation.
The annual run hosted by Nông Sơn district’s People’s Committee in 2022 and 2023 also aims to promote the community-based tourism of Đại Bình fruit villages in the district. The athletes take part in 7km, 21km and 38km distances alongside the beautiful Thu Bồn River, quiet villages and the endless greenery of Nông Sơn rice paddies.
Say No to ivory products
In Đắk Lắk Province, the Việt Nam Cycling Federation (VCF), the Đắk Lắk Young Entrepreneurs Association and the Yók Đôn National Park are collaborating to host the first Việt Nam Mountain Bike (MTB) Championships 2023 in celebration of World Elephant Day and to highlight the threats to elephants from the illegal wildlife trade.
One of the biggest threats to the survival of African elephants is the high demand for ivory products in Asia, which remain one of the most traded products in physical and online markets. Việt Nam is a major hub for illegal transportation, trade, and consumption of ivory products and other threatened wild species, causing severe impacts on biodiversity. Most recently, at least seven tonnes of elephant tusks from Africa were seized in Hải Phòng City in March 2023, the largest such haul ever recorded in the northern port city.
Surveys have shown that businessmen are prominent among consumers of products containing protected wildlife to improve their health and promote their social status and business relationships. Therefore, the participation of 200 businessmen, government officials and partners is essential to call for a modern social norm where using and gifting illegal wildlife products are not accepted.
The event was organised under the USAID Saving Threatened Wildlife project, implemented by the Management Board for Forestry Projects (MBFP) of MARD, WWF, TRAFFIC and ENV.
“As Việt Nam businesses extend their operations globally, the desire to prevent the decline of elephants in Africa, by not accepting or gifting ivory products to build business relationships, sends a positive message that the demand and use of illegal wildlife products will not be tolerated in Viet Nam,” said Michelle Owen, Chief of Party, USAID Saving Threatened Wildlife. — VNS