The Elephant Conservation Center in Laos

17. May 2019

The Elephant Conservation Center in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was founded in 2011. The government of the country and elephant specialists in different parts of the world were concerned that the “Country of a Million Elephants” might have none left by the year 2030. As there are currently only 800 elephants left, divided equally between captive and wild elephants, the conservation center represents an all-important step to reverse the trend towards extinction of this iconic species.

Given this small number of elephants, it is essential to use captive as well as wild elephants to maintain and grow the overall population.  To take care of captive elephants and give them back part of their freedom also requires the cooperation of the elephants’ keepers  (mahouts).

In early 2018, the prime minster of the country Mr. Throngloun Sisoulith stopped the illegal sale of 13 elephants to Dubai, and after the regional government of the Xayaboury province agreed to increase the land grant to the Center to a total of 530 ha, the elephants walked  150 km to get there. (See the following video of the elephant’s trek to their new home)

The Center is located on the shore of the beautiful Nam Tien  Lake, only two hours from the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang. 75 % of the country’s elephant population is located in the Xayaboury district, also known as the Elephant Homeland for its historical connection to pachyderms.

Financing of the center is covered exclusively through eco-tourism activities and donations. Only elephants having worked in the logging industry or mass tourism are welcomed.

Due to their long traditional connection with elephants, local people are approaching the Center offering their assistance. The regional, as well as the national government have been very supportive of the Center’s conservation efforts by land grants and promises of more land as required. Catching of wild elephants and trading in wildlife has been banned and the use of elephants by the logging industry has been severely restricted.

The center now cares for 29 elephants with a staff of 53 Lao and international elephant experts. It has the only elephant hospital in the country and an on-site elephant nursery, as well as plenty  of lush forest for the elephants to roam in and many watering holes to bathe in.

A group of elephants at the Conservation Center stand in one of the park’s many watering holes. This socialization time is an important part of their bathing routine. Caption and photo credit: Ashley Western/NPR

The center actively trains mahouts for their new tasks and is developing programs to educate the local population about the importance of conservation and opportunities to participate in eco-tourism activities. Veterinary care  keeps elephants healthy and all staff members ensure the overall well-being of their pachyderm residents. Of prime importance to the center’s conservation efforts is the elephant re-production program in conjunction with wild elephant populations .

 

A mahout stands with his elephant at the edge of a watering hole. Each handler learns through the Center’s mahout training program. Caption and photo credit: Ashley Westerman/NPR

While poaching, population increase and expanding infrastructures endanger the survival of endangered species in all of SouthEast Asia, the Lao example of creating protected areas for elephants could well be an example of successful conservation projects for endangered species in other parts of of Asia.

For donations and more details visit the Center’s website:

www.elephantconservationcenter.com

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