Mysterious herd of elephants marches out of hiding in southern Vietnam

By Vi Vu   September 18, 2017 | 11:00 am GMT+7

While it’s great news for conservation efforts, it could be a curse on the family of 15, which includes four calves.

A previously unseen herd of elephants has been spotted in Vietnam's southern province of Dong Nai, according to forest management officials.

While it’s great news for conservation efforts, it could be a curse on the family of 15, which includes four calves.

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The elephant herd in Dong Nai Province. Photo courtesy of Dong Nai Newspaper

Officials believe that this herd has never been seen before, because the herd they have been tracking in recent years is led by a different male and only has one or two calves.

There’s low chance that the animals have given birth to more calves in such a short time, they said.

The news of the herd has been covered widely by local media and hailed as good news for conservation efforts.

But officials familiar with wildlife protection in Vietnam said it's not always a blessing. Media coverage about incidents like this helps to raise awareness about the need for protection, but it also alerts poachers to the animals’ location.

Dong Nai started a VND74 billion ($3.25 million) project in 2013 to protect the giant animals from poaching and deadly encounters with farmers.

Part of the project is an electric fence erected three months ago to keep them away from farmland and residential areas. Officials said the fence only gives a slight shock to scare the animals and does not harm them.

Nine elephants have died in the province in the past seven years, and one person was killed during an encounter with the giant mammals.

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 U.S. government has pledged $24 million to help protect Vietnam’s last remaining elephants by conserving their habitat.