XAYABOURY, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) – In a scene straight of out an Indiana Jones movie, 13 elephants walked across the Nam Pouy National Park and arrived at their new home at the Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) in Xayaboury province on February 19, 2018.
This impressive caravan had travelled about 150 kilometres, all the way from Thongmixay district where they had been stationed for several months following a decision by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to stop their illegal export to a foreign country.
The Lao government recently took steps to reverse illegal wildlife trafficking and environmental crimes with tightened laws on log exports and a new national law on wildlife trafficking due to come into effect.
A tangible indication of this reform came this month with this gifting of elephants to the Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) in Xayaboury province, after all options were carefully assessed by teams from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for their relocation. The ECC, well-known globally for its socially responsible care of retired, orphaned and injured domestic elephants, has been seeking to expand its facilities to enable a semi-wild environment in keeping with international practice.
With this ‘caravan of hope’, 13 Lao elephants are now free thanks to a brave decision by central and Xayaboury provincial authorities.
Aged five to 47, elephants from this group will now enjoy a life amongst the existing 12-strong herd at the ECC and hopefully contribute to the regeneration of the declining elephant population of Laos through the breeding programme undertaken by the ECC team of biologists and veterinarians.
As they left Thongmixay district in Xayaboury province, the elephants’ mahouts (elephant handlers), the Deputy Director of the provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department Khamkeuang Phanlak and staff from the ECC walked for four days across the Nam Pouy National Park, an area where an estimated population of 50-70 wild elephants still exists. As they exited the forest, they stopped in Pakxong village where they made a donation to the local elementary school, according to a report from the centre.
Representatives of Xayaboury provincial authorities present at the handover ceremony included provincial Deputy Governors Bounphak Inthapanya and Phengnilan Khamphanpheng, the provincial Environment and Natural Resources Department Director Somkhit Inthavong, and local provincial and district authorities.