During a conference on the preservation of elephants, organized in Buon Ma Thuot City in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak on Wednesday, travel specialists stated that tourists are becoming more interested in observing the happiness and friendliness of the animals, rather than forcing them to serve tourism services.
According to Cao Chi Cong, deputy chief of the Administration of Forestry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, approximately 60 domesticated elephants and 100 wild elephants were believed to exist in Vietnam as of 2015.
The number of elephants in the country has shrunk significantly over the past few decades, Cong added, explaining that 500 were recorded in 1980 and now about 80 remain.
Of the 80, 44 reside in Dak Lak, Huynh Trung Luan, director of the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, said, adding only seven females in the herd are able to give birth to new offspring.
Furthering the problem is the poor state of elephant living conditions, with the well-being of the animals often neglected by the local residents and businesses who only raise them to facilitate tourism services, Luan stated.
The animals are not given sufficient nutritional supplementation yet are still forced to carry many tourists on a daily basis, the conservationist elaborated, adding that the elephants are also bound with chains and have heavy chairs attached to their backs.
“These poor conditions certainly compromise the elephants’ health, happiness, and fertility,” he said.
Forest elephants in the country are also threatened by deforestation and poachers hunting their ivory, Luan remarked.
Speaking at the meeting, a veterinarian from the Netherlands warned that the species could become extinct in Vietnam within the next 10 to 15 years.
Riding elephants should not be a joy
According to Sarah Blaine from the Thailand Mahouts Foundation, many villages in Thailand house elephants in a harmonious environment with local residents.
In such habitats, the elephants are well taken care of, complacent, fertile, and not bound by chains or subjected to forceful commands.
Katherine Connor, an expert from the Thailand-based Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, introduced that idea to Vietnam by stating that with good policies and management, elephants could be great contributors to local tourism while still being heavily protected.
The animals should not be used as transportation or surrounded with groups of more than six people; tourists should also not be allowed to take photos too close to them, said Connor as she listed other suitable policies.
The healthier the elephants are, the more tourists are attracted to the destinations, and the more benefits local residents will gain, the foreign specialist elaborated.
However, Nguyen Cong Chung, deputy director of the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, stated that the concept was only viable in foreign nations as most Vietnamese visitors still love the idea of riding elephants.
The high demand leads local residents into the temptation of the large profits to be gained by using their elephants for tourism activities, Chung said.
“A change depends on many factors and will require a long process,” he added.