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Elephants' free passport between Laos and China
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Elephants' free passport between Laos and China

Khonesavanh Latsaphao
Vientiane Times
Publication Date : 24-05-2010
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An elephant festival in Laos.

The jungle covered valleys where Laos and China meet often echo with the call of elephants as these majestic beasts wander in search of food in the thick vegetation.

One such valley can be found where Sing district in Luang Namtha province of Laos shares its border with China's Jinghong.

People local to the area will tell you it's rare to see these huge animals out in the forest, but not so rare to hear them.

In the past, hundreds of elephants roamed the area; now the wild population has sadly dwindled to a herd of about six animals due to deforestation, lack of habitat connectivity, slow reproduction, poaching and human-elephant conflict.

Local Lao and Chinese authorities are now working together to protect the remaining herd.

Luang Namtha provincial agriculture and forestry office head Soukson Phonpadith explained to Vientiane Times that Laos and China signed a document in Jinghong in December last year to protect the elephants.

“The elephant group at the border is neither Lao nor Chinese, but has lived in this area for a long time, so the animals have free passage between our countries,” he said.

“We will install special cameras next week, because we want to see the size of the elephants in this group.”

“Until now, we have not been able to see the animals; we have only heard them. If we go near them they will become afraid and run away,” he said.

On the Lao side, the Luang Namtha provincial agriculture and forestry office established a project to protect wild elephants in 2008, and various activities proceeded the forest conservation efforts in the border area.

The agreement with China sets aside a natural reserve covering over 31,000 hectares of forest in China, and a further 30,000 hectares in Laos to better protect elephants and other rare and endangered animals that inhabit both countries.

“Elephants live in both provinces, regularly crossing from one nation to the next. It makes sense that the elephants are protected equally in both countries,” said Soukson.

The joint nature reserve is part of efforts to build better wildlife habitats in the bordering tropical rainforests, aiming to connect them into bigger and better habitats for elephants and other wildlife that occupy them.

Last month, Laos and China provided training to teach staff in the reserve to protect elephants against human-elephant conflict by patrolling and monitoring the area and undertaking biodiversity surveys.

The staff will also boost villagers' protection awareness through people-to-people exchanges, and more staff are to be hired for environmental education campaigns for villagers in the forested region, said Soukson.

Wild elephants can be better protected through improved National Protected Area management, and limiting the amount of elephant habitat destroyed for human development.

Greater law enforcement is also needed to decrease elephant poaching in all National Protected Areas and the illegal trade in elephant products in Laos.

“This enforcement should come in protected areas and at local markets to ensure people are not selling elephant products, and at international checkpoints where elephant parts are smuggled out of the country,” he said.

Provincial authorities are also providing alternative income-generating activities for elephant owners instead of working them in the logging industry.

This includes tourism, a growing industry in Laos that can potentially employ a greater number of elephants each year.



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