Frequent conflicts between wild elephants in the southern province of Dong Nai and local residents have increased the need for urgent protection of the endangered mammal.
Since 2009, the conflicts have killed one local residents and injured tow, whilst claiming the lives of nine wild elephants.
Due to habitat loss, the elephants move closer to areas of human settlement and destroy local crops, causing heavy economic losses and affecting thousands of local households.
According to the Forest Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Asian elephants now only live in two other localities in Vietnam outside of Dong Nai, namely the central province of Nghe An and the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
The animal is considered endangered by the UN Red List and critically endangered by the Vietnam Red Book. The government has also included Asian elephants in the group of rare and endangered animals prioritised for urgent protection.
Research conducted by Vietnamese and Indian experts in December 2001 showed that the total wild elephant population in Dong Nai is 15-20 individuals. Meanwhile, the province's Forest Protection Department estimated the number at 17 in 2009 and ten individuals in 2013.
Increased habitat loss is posing a severe threat to elephants. Local foresters in Dong Nai said the natural habitat for wild Asian elephants decreased from 50,000ha in the 1990s to 14,000 ha in 2005, mostly in Cat Tien National Park.
Between 2006 and 2009, elephants expanded their territory to 34,000ha, encroaching on residential areas in Ma Da and Phu Ly communes in Vinh Cuu district. Last year and early this year, the elephants approached the forests near Thanh Son commune in Dinh Quan district and parts of the La Nga forestry company plantation.
According to Tran Van Mui, Director of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, elephants' habitats are being reduced and degraded, leading to a lack of food and more conflicts between the animals and residents.
In Phu Ly commune in Vinh Cuu district, elephant herds destroyed 14.4ha of crops in 2007 and 19ha in 2008. In 2013, almost 50ha of cropland was destroyed by elephants in the whole province, along with a number of damages to property, he said.
In a bid to improve the situation, the People's Committee of Dong Nai approved a 74 billion VND (3.47 million USD) project to protect wild elephants in the locality, which is to be implemented in the natural forests of Vinh Cuu, Tan Phu and Dinh Quan districts.
According to Dong Nai's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the project will focus on assessing the elephant population, distribution and movements, while planning the expansion of their habitat to provide sustainable natural living conditions.
The project will also seek ways to avoid conflict between people and elephants, while increasing communication efforts to raise the public's awareness of the importance of protecting wild elephants.
Meanwhile, the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve also implemented a 9 billion VND project to build a 30km fence, using solar power to generate electric shocks that keep elephants inside the reserve but do not hurt them.
ministry of agriculture and rural development, agriculture and rural development, cat tien national park, dong nai biosphere reserve, central highlands province, dong nai, habitat loss, economic losses, forest protection, rural development, in two, outside of, central province, nghe an, central highlands
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