Deforestation case leads to discovery of poached elephants

(No.10, Vol.2, Oct 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Before leaving Dak Lak on 24 August, Mr Do Trong Kim, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Department of Forest Management, affirmed that the violations that recently took place at the Yok Don National Park have ended. Mr Kim is the delegation head of the Department of Forest Management’s task force, which was sent to Yok Don National Park under the direction of Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai in order to investigate the circumstances of the deforestation that is inciting reaction from the press. However, just 30 minutes after Mr Kim got on an airplane late at night on 25 August, Forest Management Station No. 11 reported the news that two wild elephants were killed in the zone of forest managed by the station.

Elephant Y Dor by Dak Minh Lake, Don Village, Dak Lak, 2011

Y Rim is putting tree bark on the back of an elephant before putting a passenger sedan on top. The bark helps ease the pain caused by the sedan. Don Village, Dak Lak, 2011

Elephant Patt Tuc at Thanh Ha tourist area, Don Village, Dak Lak,2011. Patt Tuc is chained up when not being used.

On 26 August, the relevant authorities of Dak Lak province examined the scene of the elephants’ deaths in Ea Bung commune, Ea Sup district. According to initial assessments, they were both mature elephants, including one male and one female, each weighing approximately 2,000-3,000kg. Mr HuynhTrung Luan, Director of the Dak Lak Centre for the Conservation of Elephants, related that the two elephants had died approximately ten days earlier and that the elephants’ carcasses were in the decomposition process. The elephants’ hooves and tails were removed. As for the male elephant, its head was bored into and its tusks were cut off. Beside the cut marks on the elephants’ bodies, the authorities also collected a number of bullet heads. Based on this, they determined that the two elephants had been murdered.
The Yok Don National Park said that earlier in August, the park recorded the presence of a herd of about 30 wild elephants. It was a herd of elephants that frequently travels back and forth between Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, Ea Sup district, and Yok Don National Park. According to a research team from Tay Nguyen University, this herd often migrates to the forests and marshes in Cambodia. The elephants only return to Yok Don National Park during the rainy season when the park has abundant food and drinking water. Wild elephants also rarely travel alone. Thus, the two unfortunate elephants could possibly have belonged to that herd.
Mr Luan also said that the pity is that there were only two male elephants in the herd, and only one was a mature male with tusks. After the latter elephant was killed, only one juvenile male elephant (about two months old) was left behind. Thus, the entire herd will be ‘widowed’. It will be another 15 years before the remaining male elephant, should he be fortunate enough to survive, will be able to perform the ‘business’ of an adult.

An investigator examined the corpse of an elephant in Dak Lak, 26 August, 2012.
Photo: Dang Trung Kien

This is not the first incidence of a wild elephant’s being shot and killed in Dak Lak. Since the beginning of this year alone, five wild elephants have already died. Among them, three mature males were determined to have been killed by poachers.
The number of wild elephants that were found dead over the past three years in Dak Lak is fourteen.
Perhaps, it goes without saying that elephant tusks are precious. Typically, it is only the wealthy, powerful, and fortuitous who come to possess a pair of tusks from an adult elephant. As for small and fractured tusks, they are cut to make jewellery like hairpins, combs, necklaces, and bracelets, at prices upwards of hundred of dollars each. Aside from being a sign of affluence, people also believe that elephant ivory necklaces and bracelets have potent properties that forefend miasma and poisons. Nowadays, not only are the elephant’s tusks coveted, but its tail hairs and the soles of its feet are objects of desire for many people. People believe that by possessing the hairs of an elephant’s tail they will find fortune in love, happiness between husband and wife, and untrammeled love. Each strand of hair from an elephant’s tail is from 10 to 15 centimetres long and is sold for $25 so that they can be threaded through golden rings or just simply placed in a wallet. Therefore, it is not just male elephants with tusks that are targeted by poachers, but also female and juvenile elephants.
A study conducted by a team of researchers from Tay Nguyen University in 2009 concluded that the number of wild elephants in Dak Lak varied from 83 to 110 individuals. However, today no one is certain how many are left. The concern, according to associate professor Bao Huy, M.A., vice-principal of Tay Nguyen University’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry, is that among those elephants, only seven to ten elephants are juveniles under the age of five. This poses the real formidable challenge for the conservation of wild elephants. Explaining the causes for the paucity in the number of young elephants, Cao Thi Ly, M.A. of Tay Nguyen University would not rule out the possibility that the elephants’ reproductivity is low due to the alarming diminishment of their habitat. Presently, the elephant herd in the area of Yok Don Mountain (where Yok Don National Parkis ) is cut off by the Seropok River and Chu Minh Mountain, so the elephants can hardly travel to the north and their food is being depleted more and more by the day.
In the zone of forest managed by the EaH.Mo Forestry Company and Ya Lop Forestry Company, a number of other elephants are ‘besieged’ by projects to plant rubber, the cultivated land of Army Corp 16, and peasants’ fields. Also due to their no longer having forest in which to live, recently the elephants in Ea Sup district have frequently been destroying crops, entering homes, and menacing people. People have taken all kinds of measures to drive them away, but the elephants are only getting fiercer and fiercer.
‘The intensity of their appearances and lack of restraint when encountering humans exhibits an increasingly dire conflict between the conversion of forests into cultivatable land and the gradual loss of the elephants’ habitat, and that threatens the sustainable conservation of elephants,’ Cao Thi Ly commented.
In 2006, the prime minister ratified Resolution No. 733/2006/QD-TTg, which was a plan for prompt action to be taken through 2010 in order to conserve elephants in three key areas: Nghe An, Dak Lak, and Dong Nai. However, it was not until 2010 that a project to conserve elephants in Dak Lak was approved aimed at the sustainable management of wild elephants, development of domesticated elephants, and preservation of the cultural character of elephants. Since then, the Dak Lak Centre for Elephant Conservation has perfected only a ‘framework’, by finding a location to establish headquarters, building an elephant hospital, and training cadres. According to experts in wild animal conservation, the content of what the Dak Lak Centre for Elephant Conservation is carrying out concentrates mainly on domesticated elephants when it is only the conservation of wild elephants that is truly sustainable conservation.

By Dang Trung Kien
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