A shrinking habitat has forced herds of wild elephant away from natural forests and into residential areas to scrounge for food in the buffer zone of a national park in the north-central province of Nghe An.
The daily lives of many residents in the buffer zone of Pu Mat National Park in Anh Son District have been disturbed for several months now with the presence of wild elephants in their areas.
At around 2 a.m. everyday, Luong Van Tinh and Ha Thi Hien of Veu 3 Village, Phuc Son Commune, are waken from sleep by the sounds of broken trees and fallen leaves.
The elderly couple soon realizes what is happening. Tinh jumps out of the bed, grabs a flashlight and rushes to his neighbors’ houses to give them the alert.
Soon the village is alight with torches and flashlights. The sounds of striking pans and people screaming are disturbing.
A herd of elephants is seen calmly gnawing into sugarcane in the fields, as if they do not hear the sounds. It is not until 4 a.m. that the elephants made their exit, leaving the exhausted villagers behind.
Last February, a herd of elephants came to the village. After trampling crops in the fields, they invaded the kitchen of a house. They destroyed the roof of the kitchen and most of the cooking utensils and appliances inside.
Luckily, the owner of the house, Nguyen Van Tuyen, and his family was not home at the time. Residents in the village said they had not harvested their sugarcane crops, but around half of the crops had been totally destroyed by the elephants’ feet.
“I planned to pay a VND30 million (US$14,228) debt to the sugar plant after harvesting this crop, but I couldn't any more,” a resident named Binh said.
Commune authorities said they had asked the district’s government to support affected residents, but the district said the commune must use its own budget. As the commune’s budget has run dry, no residents have received any financial support so far.
The elephants were reported to have visited Thanh Chuong District’s Thanh Duc Commune, which borders the Veu 3 Village to the east.
Statistics from Pu Mat National Park show there are 16 wild elephants, divided into three herds, in the park. Recently, as the area of natural forests is shrinking, the elephants have invaded residential areas to find food.
Nguyen Huu Minh, chairman of Phuc Son Commune People’s Committee, said the commune had just given 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of forest to a company for a rubber plantation. The forest had previously provided bamboo and bananas – favorite foods of elephants. The Nghe An provincial government has just approved an emergency plan for elephant conservation until 2020.
The cost to implement the project in 2014-2015 is VND30 billion ($1.42 million). However, the provincial government has allocated only VND300 million for the project so far.
Vietnam is home to some 100 wild elephants but conservationists have blamed habitat loss, human-animal conflict and poaching for a sharp decline in the population in recent decades.
Conservationists warn the species will become extinct in Vietnam over the next decade if drastic measures are not taken to protect it.