Clash with humans feared as wild elephants forage for food in southern Vietnam

By Staff reporters   January 2, 2018 | 07:08 pm PT
Clash with humans feared as wild elephants forage for food in southern Vietnam
A network of electric fences separates the elephants from fields in Dong Nai Province. Photo by Phuoc Tuan
The big animals came out of the jungle to fruit and cassava fields almost every night in December.

A herd of around 10 elephants has been seen looking for food on multiple occasions in the past month at plantations near a jungle in Dong Nai Province in southern Vietnam, worrying locals of possible clashes.

The elephants usually showed up after 5 p.m. and were seen at least 29 times in December, according to local farmers who claimed damage worth around VND100 million ($4,400) to their fruits, cashew and cassava fields, local media reported.

Dong Nai, which neighbors Saigon, installed an electric fence that runs 50 kilometers (31 miles) between local farms and the elephants more than a year ago. But the herd has managed to take the long way around the fence.

Forest rangers have advised locals not to be out in their fields in the evening and asked the provincial government to extend the electric fence by another 20 kilometers.

The fence is part of a VND74 billion ($3.25 million) project started in 2013 aimed at protecting the giant animals and avoiding deadly encounters with farmers.

Part of the project involves improving food and water supply in the elephants’ habitat, but the work apparently has not been carried out yet.

According to figures from conservation organizations, Vietnam’s wild elephant population has shrunk by 95 percent since 1975 to less than 100. At least 23 wild elephants have died over the past seven years, and nearly 75 percent of them were less than a year old.

Experts said that plantations near their natural habitats are a major threat to their survival. The same problem has been reported in Yok Don Park in the Central Highlands, which is home to the largest group of wild elephants in Vietnam.

“The big animals need a giant habitat, but theirs has become narrow and unsafe,” said Van Ngoc Thinh, director of WWF Vietnam.

Around the world, habitat destruction and ivory trade make elephants a vulnerable species.

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