The fight for survival for the elephant in Laos is one of great frustration. Many efforts are made by lots of people but the cause needs more help every year.
Today the population stands at around 400 wild elephants. Survival of the species in the wild is seriously endangered by loss of natural habitat (expansion of settlements, agriculture, the logging industry and industrial infrastructure i.e. dams and roads) and to a lesser degree by poaching for the ivory trade or for the export of living animals. Competition for space is leading to increasing conflict between elephants and people, leading to casualties on both sides.
Laos has about 450 domesticated elephants. Most of them are engaged in timber harvesting operations by logging companies and therefore causal to the destruction of elephant habitat. Elephants are contributing to the national economy and a community of about 9000 people directly, depending on revenue generated by their work.
Traditionally, elephants from wild populations were captured and domesticated. Since capture from the wild was banned by the government, the domesticated population has plummeted. With an increase in demand for elephants by the logging industry, the animals are made to work at a furious pace. They are overworked and exhausted, and as a result cannot reproduce.
Data collected and analysed in Laos shows that the reproduction rate for elephants is extremely low. The population is becoming moribund, with elephants having an increasingly higher average age. With only 33 cows under the age of 20 (the country’s ‘breeding reservoir’ in 15 years’ time) the future of Laos’s domesticated elephants is under threat.
Information from Elephant Conservation Centre: https://www.elephantconservationcenter.com