Houses being knocked down, farms and crops destroyed and farmers’ safety threatened are some of the issues facing villages near the edge of forests in the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai, where wild elephants have intruded.
The animals often enter the villages from April to June and before the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival because this is when food in the wild is scarce.
Tet is the biggest celebration in Vietnam, which is about five weeks away.
Not only do the wild elephants seek food such as mango, bananas, corn, potatoes, and rice, they also scour houses to eat all of the salt kept in the kitchens.
Many people in the provinces of Binh Thuan, Lam Dong and Dong Nai, which border forests, have been killed by wild elephants in recent years.
Tran Minh Hoang, a local in the fourth hamlet of Thanh Son Commune in Dong Nai’s Dinh Quan District, recounted that he heard the thud of footsteps in his garden at midnight on December 31, 2014, and the rustling of tree branches followed.
Opening the door, he was stunned to see nearly a dozen “Ông Bồ” (Mr. Bồ) – the Vietnamese name for elephants used by farmers out of respect.
He turned a lamp toward the herd of seven to nine elephants in the hope of driving them away but they created a lot of noise. He later called the local forest management unit and soon after that a team of 30 soldiers and policemen arrived.
They sounded alarms and sirens with two mobile loudspeakers and pointed high power lamps toward the wild elephants. Metal barrels and saucepans were used to create noise to drive them away.
An area was lit up with red lights from firewood.
Hoang risked approaching the wild animals but was threatened when he was about five meters from them.
The more noise and light locals applied, the more damage the animals created. The elephants uprooted two big mango trees right in front of the crowd.
Tran Van Toan, vice chief of the second forestry team, spoke through a speaker, “Please keep calm and avoid stunning the animals. We just need to drive them away and not harm them.”
Then, the team was split into two, one to continue pointing high power lights into the eyes of the elephants and the other to step back to a T-intersection to prevent the animals from entering villages.
This lasted for an hour before the herd began withdrawing back into forests.
It left a section of Hoang’s mango farm damaged, with young fruits forming a layer on the ground.
“A big wild elephant approached the side of my house late in the afternoon that day. My wife and I held sticks to drive him away. But the elephant and his herd returned at midnight,” Hoang said.
Speaking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Hoang pulled up his trouser leg to show a big, long bruise on his calf and said, “I was chased by a female elephant two years ago when her herd entered my farm. I fell down by a rock and suffered this.”
Wild elephants have intruded into farms near the edge of the Dong Nai forests over the last decade.
They have appeared in a very large area. The previous evening, the animals were in the seventh hamlet bordering Tan Phu District and destroyed farms near Ma Da Commune of Vinh Cuu District in Dong Nai the following day.
Nguyen Van Hieu in the fifth hamlet said the herd wreaked havoc on his farm last week.
“I was sitting having a smoke and the dogs barked loudly. I opened the door and saw a huge dark shadow approaching,” he said.
“I cried and came back inside to lead my wife away.
“Smelling rice, salt and instant noodles in the kitchen, the animal grabbed the main column of the house and pulled it to knock it down.”
He ran to warn neighbors, who lit a fire and knocked on metal tools to create sound.
After eating everything in the kitchen and other food on the farm, the wild elephant walked away, leaving behind a destroyed house.
An hour later, the elephant showed up at another house of Ho Van Rot nearby and knocked down the 70 square meter structure.
He ate a bag of rice, a jar of salt, and some clothes that smelled salty from human sweat.
Forest management units recommended that local farmers avoid planting trees which are the favorite food of elephants such as sugar cane, bananas, and mango. They should plant jack fruit and lemon trees instead.
The units are planning to build a fixed electric fence and a mobile one to both protect the wild animals and farmers.
The fences will emit electric sparks to create small shocks and prevent them from approaching. The fences are not harmful to people and other smaller animals.