By Thien Nhien
Wild elephants’ traditional habitats in the forests of Dong Nai province are diminishing as locals vie for space with the animals.
A survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Forest Protection Department (FPD) shows that wild Asian elephants in Vietnam can be found now in only three provinces, Nghe An, Dak Lak and Dong Nai.
In December 2001, Vietnamese and Indian experts conducted a survey and found that were 15-20 elephants in Cat Tien National Park and several neighboring areas.
In 2009, FPD found 17 elephants in Dong Nai.
Surveys conducted by the Dong Nai provincial forest protection unit in 2011, 2012 and 2013 all concluded that there were only 10 elephants in the province.
The gradual decrease in the number of elephants has been attributed to the narrowing of the elephants’ habitat. Prior to 2000, elephants had a large active zone of 50,000 hectares, mostly in Cat Tien National Park.
The area, by 2005, had been narrowed to 14,000 hectares in southwestern Cat Tien Park. Meanwhile, the surveys in 2006-2009 showed that elephants tend to move to the forests near residential quarters, including ones in Ma Da, Phu Ly communes of Vinh Cuu District.
In 2012-2014, elephants were seen in areas near the residential quarters in Thanh Son Commune of Dinh Quan District, and the area under control of the La Nga Forestry Company.
Tran Van Mui, director of the Dong Nai provincial Nature and Culture Reserve, noted that the narrowed habitat, the lack of food and mineral salt have led to an increasingly serious conflict between elephants and people.
In 2007, elephants damaged 14.4 hectares of crop in Phu Ly Commune of Vinh Cuu District. The figure rose to 19 hectares in 2008 and then to 50 hectares in 2013.
Nine wild elephants have been killed in Dong Nai Nature and Culture Reserve and Tan Phu protective forest area since 2009.
Drastic measures taken
Le Viet Dung, deputy head of the Dong Nai provincial forest protection unit, said while Asian elephants were listed as “endangered” in the world’s Red Book, they were listed as “critically endangered” in Vietnam’s Red Book.
The Dong Nai provincial People’s Committee plans to spend VND74 billion on a project to protect Asian elephants in the province, aiming to protect wild elephants and help local residents resettle.
The researchers want to identify the factors needed for elephant conservation, and set up a program to supervise the elephants’ activities, in addition to enlarging the living environment for elephants and improving their habitat.
According to Mui, an electronic fence 30 kilometers long in total has been installed in some areas in order to help minimize the damages caused by elephants.