Conservationists have expressed concern over the decline in the elephant population in Laos due to overwork and poaching.
Laos recently was named as a major source for the illicit ivory trade bought by foreign tourists and this is one of the main factors that have put the elephant population at risk.
ElefantAsia, an organisation that provides medical care to Lao elephants, told Vientiane Times yesterday the elephant population had been declining every year. Currently, there are 4 50 domestic elephants nationwide.
Xayaboury is believed to have the highest number of elephants in the country, but every year they are facing a tough situation with animals getting overworked, sometimes even killed.
Deputy Head of the Information, Culture and Tourism Department in Xayaboury, Mr Sangvien Saengchanaly, said there were 327 elephants in the province, but last year, three elephants were killed.
One of them, a domestic elephant, died through overwork while the other two, who were a wild mother and her calf, were killed by poachers who used their parts to make handicrafts and jewellery.
“Besides the ivory, the poachers will use the elephant's hair from its eyebrows, tail and around its body to produce handicraft items for sale,” Mr Sangvien said. Some people believe that wearing such items w ill bring them good luck, but in order to protect the elephants Mr Sangvien says this attitude has to change.
“If there is no serious action to protect the elephants, they will likely become extinct in Laos,” he said.
He said the majority of the elephants in Xayaboury were used for commercial purposes such as logging and heavy lifting and carrying activities.
Some mahouts prefer to get involved in logging and other hard work as they can make more money than through tourism.
Because poachers can make money from many of the animal's body parts, not just the ivory, they will kill both males and females which further restricts the opportunity for the elephant population to grow.
Laos was once known as the land of a million elephants and to most of the population the elephant is considered a sacred animal.