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Elephants in Vietnam

map elephants in VietnamThe elephant has an enormous cultural and religious significance in Vietnam. Historically elephants graced the Royal Courts and were revered by Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. In later times elephants played a crucial transportation role in the war for independence and Vietnam war.

However the elephant’s survival in Vietnam is critically endangered and the government is currently feverishly attempting to halt their slide into total extinction. With less that 100 animals remaining the concerted action now being undertaken may be a case of too little, too late.

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Vietnam Elephant Population Figures

Elephant Range: 3,000 kmĀ²
Country Ranking: 9th of 13
Total Wild Elephants: 76 – 94
Country Ranking: 13th of 13
Total Captive Population: 165
Country Ranking: 9th of 13

Source: R Sukumar – A Brief Review of the Status, Distribution and Biology of Wild Asian Elephants Elephas maximus- International Zoo Yearbook 2006.

While this information source is considered the very best available, accurate data on wild elephant populations is difficult to obtain and scientifically verify.

Wild Elephants in Vietnam

Wild Elephants in VietnamThe elephant population of Vietnam has been declining since the Second World War for similar reasons found in the rest of Asia; deforestation, habitat loss and poaching. However the decades of conflict that inflicted the country hastened the decline as a result of bombing and poisoning with Agent Orange, napalm and other defoliants.With the population already at a historic low over the last 15 years, there has been a catastrophic fall in the numbers of wild elephants in Vietnam. In 1990 there were estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 elephants.

In the forests today, the numbers are thought to have declined to just double figures.

The reasons for this fall are:

  1. A reduction of forest cover from logging
  2. Forest clearance for agriculture
  3. Capture for domestication
  4. Elephant Human conflict and the killing of elephants as pests
  5. Ivory poaching
  6. Forest fires this led to the isolation of the ever diminishing elephant herds into unviable population units

Conservation Measures

Conservation MeasuresFaced with the possibility of total extinction, the government of Vietnam has developed The National Elephant Action Plan to be overseen by the Forest Protection Department. The plan allows for the creation of elephant protection areas in Dak Lak, Dong Nai and Nghe An provinces; the three areas with the largest populations of elephants. The habitats will be examined to create the optimal conditions for the elephants’ long term survival and a system of electric fences and trenches will be put in place in an effort to reduce elephant-human conflict.

Any other areas containing wild elephants will be studied to ascertain suitability and if it is decided that the population is unviable, relocation will be considered.

As part of the plan, Vietnam’s remaining domesticated elephants, which outnumber their wild cousins by two to one, can hopefully be utilised in the conservation scheme.

The National Elephant Action Plan also includes provisions for education and awareness and will attempt to mobilise the support of the Vietnamese people.

Domesticated Elephants in Vietnam

Domesticated Elephants in VietnamThe vast majority of Vietnam’s 165 domesticated elephants are located in Dak Lak province, where there is a long tradition of elephant capture and training by Vietnam’s ethnic minority people. Historically, many elephants caught and domesticated in Vietnam were sold in Cambodia and Laos.

The numbers of domesticated elephants has declined significantly over the past 25 year from about 600 in 1980 to 165 today.

The reasons for this include:

  1. The banning of wild capture
  2. The reticence of mahouts to allow female elephants to breed rather than work
  3. The decline in profitable work for elephants and the corresponding increase in the cost of care (feeding etc)
  4. Selling domesticated elephants to buyers in Laos and Cambodia
  5. Shot for ivory

Domesticated elephants in Vietnam are employed in various ways:

  1. Tourism – this is now the major employer of domesticated elephants
  2. Festival and religious ceremonies
  3. Transportation
  4. Logging


elephant%20survival%20vietnamThe next decade will be crucial for the survival of Vietnam’s elephants in both the wild and domesticated contexts. If enough resources are put behind the National Elephant Action Plan, it may just be possible to pull the elephant back from the brink. To lose one of the range states entirely would be a grave day for supporters of the Asian elephant and this important battle should be given as much support as possible.