Wild elephants lose habitat, lack mates in central Vietnam

By Hai Chi   November 8, 2022 | 12:31 am PT
Wild elephants lose habitat, lack mates in central Vietnam
An elphant is seen in a forest in Phuc Son Commune, Anh Son District of Nghe An Province in 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Linh
Nghe An is at risk of losing its elephants forever as the animals don't have mates to reproduce and increasing human encroachment of their habitat is making things worse.

The central province is currently home to around 14-16 wild elephants living in five different herds, according to the provincial forest rangers.

Of these, the biggest has around eight-nine elephants, living in the Pu Mat National Park. Some are loners and others move around in pairs.

For the smaller herds, the ability to reproduce is very low, given the lack of mates, said Vo Cong Anh Tuan, head of the Department of Science and International Cooperation at the park.

The lack of mates also means elephants are prone to get fiercer during mating season, he added.

Since June, an old female elephant has raided a residential area in Nam Son Commune of Quy Hop District on three different occasions. It killed one cow and destroyed several hectares of rice fields and other properties.

Around 10 days ago, a mother elephant and her calf damaged crops planted by residents of Chau Phong Commune in Quy Chau District.

Tuan said the reason elephants are entering human areas is that their habitat has been encroached upon by humans – turning natural forests into "production forests."

Under such conditions, elephants do not just lose their home but also face a food shortage.

An elephant and her calf break a production forest of local residents in Chau Phong Commune in Quy Chau District, Nghe An Province, October 24, 2022. Video by VnExpress/Dinh Tiep

Nghe An authorities have considered a plan to merge small herds with larger ones to create more opportunities for them to find a mate and reproduce.

The plan is not very practical because the herds live far away from the other and are separated by difficult terrain.

Tuan said giving elephants anesthetic shots poses many risks. In the time that it takes for the shot to take effect, the elephants could move around and get stuck somewhere or even fall into pits, he said.

Luring a wild elephant to a safe place and giving it an anesthesia dose strong enough to make it lose consciousness immediately is not easy, Tuan said.

Vo Thi Nhung, deputy director of Nghe An's Agriculture Department, said the authorities have considered merging elephant herds for years but have not found a feasible way to do it.

The department has reached out to institutes and wildlife conservation centers for help, she said, adding that the immediate task is to protect the existing habitat of each of the five herds.

According to the Vietnam Environment Administration, the country had around 1,500-2,000 wild elephants in the 1990s but the number has dwindled down to 124-148, most of them in the Central Highlands.

According to the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, in seven years, between 2008 and 2014, the natural forest area in the Central Highlands, which used to be the biggest habitat for elephants in Vietnam, shrank by more than 358,700 hectares.

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