Elephant numbers are falling rapidly in Dak Lak Province and local authorities are struggling to protect the giant animals from the threat of extinction.
The Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) province, Viet Nam’s main elephant habitat, had around 502 domesticated animals and more than 550 in the wild in 1980, according to the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre.
All that are left now are 49 domesticated elephants and five herds of wild ones numbering 60-70 individuals.
The former are likely to disappear in 20-30 years if they do not reproduce, according to experts.
Shrinking forests, illegal poaching, shortage of food, improper breeding techniques, and overworking have caused the deaths of both domestic and wild varieties, according to the centre.
Seventeen wild elephants have been found dead in Dak Lak since 2009.
At least five were attributed to humans because of missing body parts such as tusks, soles of the feet, and tails, which are in huge demand as decorative items.
In 2005-12 natural forests in Buon Don, Ea Sup, and Ea H’leo Districts, where the majority of the wild elephants live, shrunk by 14,000ha.
With this decline, the conflict between wild elephants and humans has become intense in recent years.
In 2011-13 wild elephants destroyed more than 185ha of crops in the three districts and killed two people.
Last year the Dak Lak People’s Committee approved an elephant conservation plan to manage and protect the animals and prevent conflicts with humans and the illegal trade in elephant body parts.
Under the plan, to be implemented until 2020 and worth VND85 billion (US$4 million), two elephant conservation stations will be set up in Ea Sup and Lak districts.
Besides, the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre will earmark a 100ha area each for breeding elephants and growing food for them and for a hospital for the animals.
Of the 49 domesticated elephants in the province, only 43 (19 male and 24 female) are of reproductive age.
Over the past 30 years the reproduction rate of domesticated elephants has been a mere 0.6 per cent a year, according to the centre.
The rate has come down now to nearly zero since bulls and cows have limited chances to meet and mate since their owners keep them separately.
The animals are used for tourism services.
In May the province People’s Committee decided to provide financial support of VND200,000-600,000 a day to elephant owners during mating, pregnancy, and post-delivery periods.
Huynh Trung Luan, director of the centre, said while the conservation of domesticated elephants could only be done through reproduction, the centre had not been allotted land where they could live together and reproduce.
The task of conserving elephants was going slowly because of the lack of capital and human resources, he said.
Of the $4 million conservation plan, 60 per cent was from the central Government, but it had yet to hand over the money, he said.
Without the money, the centre had been unable to set up the modern facilities necessary to monitor wild elephants and provide medical treatment for domesticated animals, he added.