DAK LAK — Wild elephants could disappear from Viet Nam's Central Highlands permanently as deforestation has destroyed their habitat and source of food needed for survival.
|Domesticated elephants take part in a bathing ceremony – one of the activities in Buon Don District Ethnic Traditional Culture Festival 2012. Deforestation and other plans are threatening the future of wild elephants in Viet Nam's Central Highlands. — VNS Photo Thanh Ha
Their survival in the country remains doubtful as plans for a preservation project remain only on paper and forests continue to be cut down for rubber, coffee and cassava plantations.
In 2006, the Prime Minister approved an action plan for elephant conservation in the three provinces of Nghe An, Dong Nai and Dak Lak.
In the Central Highland province of Dak Lak alone, around 100 wild elephants live in districts of Buon Don and Ea Sup.
The province's People's Committee signed a project in 2010 to preserve elephants in the province through 2015, with the total budget of VND61 billion (US$2.9 million).
Nevertheless, between March 26 and 31, police and forest-protection forces from the province's Ea Sup District found three dead elephants.
A 150-kg elephant was found in Cu M'Lan commune, and six days later, the bodies of two other elephants, one weighing 400-500 kg and the other two tonnes, were found in the same commune.
Vice director of the province's Agriculture and Rural Development and head of Forest Protection Division, Y Rit Buon Ya, said that several elephants in the area had been hunted as food, and others had died of accidents or eaten inappropriate food.
The illegal killing of wild elephants for their tusks and tails is common in some provinces.
Y Rit said that last year, the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre was established as part of a protection plan expected to assist local people with nursing their domesticated elephants, as well as to oversee and protect wild ones.
However, so far, the projects has yet to provide any intervention.
Huynh Trung Luan, director of the centre, said that a budget and staff shortfall have delayed the project.
The centre received VND350 million ($16,800) out of the VND61 billion ($2.9 million), but the money is not enough to pay the salaries of the centre's six officials, according to Luan.
The centre was planned to be built on 200ha, including 100ha for breeding the animal and planting food for them. The other 100ha would contain an elephant medical centre.
The province has asked to use 163ha of Yok Don National Park to build the centre, but the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development rejected the proposal.
According to the ministry, the land located in the area needs to be strictly protected.
The province is considering using 200ha of protected forest in Don Village to develop the centre.
Central Highland University's associate professor and Dr Bao Huy, a consultant in the elephant preservation project, said that conservationists and authorities should be aware of their responsibility for elephant deaths regardless of the cause.
According to a survey by the project consultancy group, in 2009, the province had 61 domesticated elephants and about 80-110 wild elephants. The project targets three main pillars: healthcare and reproductive health assistance to domesticated elephants, preservation and expansion of the wild elephant population, and conservation of elephant culture in Central Highland.
Huy said that besides complicated administrative procedures and fund shortages, insufficient human resources posed a difficulty to project implementation.
Moreover, nearly all the urgent actions recommended in the project study had not yet been carried out, Huy said.
"A drastic measure to protect wild elephants would be to make the forests where elephants live completely protected conservation areas," he said, adding that the elephants needed huge spaces to live and grow.
Meanwhile, domesticated elephants should be taken in for medical assistance and for male and female elephants to breed, rather than live separately and over-serve local tourism. — VNS