By Christina Russo
As the slaughter of the remaining elephants in Africa continues without interruption, elephants in Vietnam—without media attention and a pack of NGOs calling for their protection—are quietly disappearing.
Victim of an intensely and increasingly fragmented habitat, weak environmental laws, human-elephant conflicts, logging, and poaching, elephants in Vietnam are teetering on extinction.
According to some reports, there were approximately 1,500 to 2,000 elephants in 1980. Today they may number as few as 70.
“The situation is extremely grim,” says Barney Long, Director of the Species Program at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “They’re right on the edge. And it will take a lot for them to recover. Not only a huge conservation shift but a huge cultural shift as well.”
Long spent a number of years working for WWF in Vietnam and says that in general the country “hasn’t demonstrated a real commitment to conservation. It has made some very bold statements, and it has done a good job of setting up some protected areas. But those protected areas in terms of elephants are way too small and the management of them is very ineffective.”
According to Cao Thi Ly, head of the Department of Forest Resource and Environment Management (FREM) at Tay Nguyen University in Vietnam, elephants live in eight or nine patches of forest around the country, including on the borders of Laos and Cambodia.
According to a 2012 report by Ly, Vietnam’s remaining elephants are extremely isolated.
In some provinces, such as Nghe An, six to ten elephants roam on one piece of land.
In other provinces, Son La or Lam Dong, for instance, there are even fewer: only one or two individuals. Their habitat is highly fragmented, and few, if any, corridors connect these patches.
Biologically, the elephant herds are made up almost entirely of related females, Long explains. More....