International conservationists and Vietnamese forest management officials on Wednesday kicked off an urgent action plan to protect the country's last wild elephants that involves better monitoring and law enforcement.
Around 60 elephants in Yok Don National Park, some of the last left in the wild in Vietnam, face constant threats from poaching and deforestation. As their habitat has shrunk, they have also come into conflict with farmers in the area.
The plan includes training for forest rangers, camera traps to monitor the population and educating locals about the animal’s movements to prevent clashes, according to a WWF press release.
The rangers will use a SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) system, a data collection tool used at many nature reserves across the world, including the provinces of Quang Nam and Thua Thien-Hue in central Vietnam.
Yok Don Park spans 115,500 hectares (285,406 acres) from Dak Lak to Dak Nong in the Central Highlands, and is one of the biggest forests in Vietnam.
Do Quang Tung, director of the park, said given the size of the open park, Yok Don can be attacked from any direction, leaving the ranger forces stretched.
The monitoring tool will be a big help, he said, as cited in the WWF statement.
The Central Highlands is home to around 70 percent of Vietnam's wild elephants. This big herd is the last chance of saving the animals in a country that has repeatedly failed to implement a ban on the trade of ivory and other elephant parts.
According to figures from the Vietnam Forestry Administration, the country's wild elephant population has shrunk by 95 percent since 1975. At least 23 wild elephants have died over the past seven years, and nearly 75 percent of them were less than a year old.
One of the biggest threats to the elephants is the sale of souvenirs made from elephant parts that are available all over Dak Lak and at Buon Me Thuot Airport, just 40 kilometers from the park. The items are believed to bring good luck or act as a status symbol.
Plantations set up close to the park have added to the tension. Around 20 elephants have shown up several times this year foraging for food around fields near the park.
Van Ngoc Thinh, director of WWF Vietnam, said: “The big animals need a giant habitat, but theirs has become narrow and unsafe.”
“The action plan is the last chance to save Vietnam’s wild elephants,” Thinh said. “Or they will end up like the Javan rhino which became extinct in 2010, or the tigers that have shown no signs of reproduction in the wild in recent years.”