Chinese Firm to Build US $40 Million Elephant Conservation, Breeding Center in Laos

2017-08-14
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Elephants greet visitors at an event marking World Elephant Day in Sayaboury city, northwestern Laos' Sayaboury province, Aug. 12, 2017.
Elephants greet visitors at an event marking World Elephant Day in Sayaboury city, northwestern Laos' Sayaboury province, Aug. 12, 2017.
RFA

A Chinese state-owned enterprise said on Saturday that it will build a U.S. $40 million elephant conservation and breeding center in northwestern Laos’ Sayaboury province and develop it into a for-profit tourist attraction by the end of the year.

At a celebration of the first World Elephant Day in the province on Aug. 12, the Sino-Lao Tourism Investment and Development Company Ltd., announced its plans to build the center in Sayaboury city for a species that has become increasingly scarce in the Southeast Asian country.

Company manager Mu Yian Yu told attendees through an interpreter that the company will invest $40 million in building the conservation center during the upcoming dry weather season which begins after October.

“The Sino-Lao Tourism Investment and Development Company will develop the center this year,” he said, adding that provincial officials have granted the firm a 50-year land concession for the center.

“In two years we will have boats, hot air balloons, and elephant shows,” he said.

A Sayaboury official, who requested anonymity, said the Chinese firm is building the elephant center as a tourist attraction.

“They are developing a tourist attraction in Sayaboury about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from here,” he said.

“It will be a big business,” he said. “The Chinese investor has already done some publicity. It’s all business nowadays. They are doing it for profit. Now they are spending U.S. $900 to feed a single elephant each month.”

The company rented about 50 elephants from Sayaboury residents for an event that attracted about 500 people to mark World Elephant Day, which was established on Aug. 12, 2012, to call attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants at risk because of illegal poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, and mistreatment in captivity.

“Every year we will mark this day and organize some activities to call on people to protect elephants and their habitat,” Mu Yian Yu said at the ceremony.

A Sayaboury resident who attended the event said he believes the Chinese are building the center in order to protect elephants in Laos and not to export them back home.

“The Chinese are doing business in our country,” said the Sayaboury resident who declined to be named. “Their purpose is to convince people to protect the elephants. These are all Lao elephants. I believe they will not sell these animals to China. They have a conservation center that can train them.”

Officials of Sayaboury province and the Chinese company estimate that there are about 850 elephants in Laos, half of which are domesticated elephants. In Sayaboury province alone, there are 250 domesticated elephants and 150 wild ones.

Not to everyone’s liking

Not everyone is a fan of wildlife conservations centers like the one the Chinese will build in Laos.

Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, told RFA’s Lao Service that wildlife conservation efforts need to be backed by law enforcement to be effective at increasing animal populations.

“I never agree with the breeding programs for domestic elephants,” he said. “For instance, in Thailand … the population of elephants always increases because of real conservation [efforts] and enforcement of the law.”

Though Laos does have such a law, poachers continue to kill elephants for their tusks and hides, which they sell illegally, mainly to China.

“We have the law, but we do not implement it,” he said “It is not because of the law but the problem is that it is not enforced.”

“Lao is now considered a global market for wildlife,” he said, adding that the trafficking of wildlife has been increasing in the country.

Wiek said if there is no further deforestation and elephant hunting in Southeast Asia, future elephant populations might increase because of areas along the Thailand-Myanmar border where elephants can roam freely and breed naturally.

“To talk about elephant conservation, we must make laws to protect against deforestation and the illegal ivory trade,” he said.

Furthermore, Wiek questioned the motives behind centers that breed elephants in captivity.

“In fact someone may think that breeding elephants to have many calves is called conservation. That does not increase the number of elephants in the forest, but rather it is only breeding for business.”

Laos became a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty protecting endangered plants and animals, in May 2004. The convention banned the ivory trade in 1989.

Though deforestation, particularly from illegal logging, is the main reason for the declining elephant population in Laos, pachyderms are also hunted and killed by poachers who smuggle their ivory tusks and hides outside the country.

Lao officials are known for the lax implementation and enforcement of laws prohibiting illegal logging and the smuggling of illegal wildlife, and border officials can easily be bribed to look the other way, experts say.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh and Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Comments (3)
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wilco

This sounds like an unmitigated disaster!
"ELEPHANT SHOWS"???? what do they mean by that.
we don't need captive elephants - least of breeding more - have you seen have they "break" elephants?? (Google "the Crush").
What is needed is large areas where the current elephant population can live in peace and breed at their own rate.

Keeping an elephant population in captivity does nothing to improve the situation of the animals in the wild - in fact it actually HARMS wild populations as it makes people complacent about their fate and increases the potential profitability of poaching elephants in the wild elephant.
lets hope someone sees sense and stops this before it gets off the ground.

Aug 16, 2017 02:39 AM

:)

from :) ha ha ha !

Laos has changed from the Kingdom of million elephants to become the Kingdom of million gangsters since 1975. People don't be fooled by this news issed by the Lao government. In fact, the Chinese are funding elephant conservation and breeding center in Laos because in return Lao government will export these elephants to China. Smart move by China and stupid move by Laos as usual. Sweet Old Boys enjoy.

Aug 15, 2017 02:47 PM

MisaoFan

Sad but true. Laos, under the first kingdom of Lan Xang is historically known as the "land of million elephants and white parasols" and play a significiant part of the country's culture so if they want that they should stop deforesting and elephant hunting so that the number of domestic elephants will increase. The law needs to be implemented in a way similar to Thailand, I feel like the role of elephants in Laos is being lost thanks to communism.

Aug 15, 2017 07:52 AM

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