The captive elephant population in Laos will be extinct in little more than a century if current breeding practices do not change, a new study warns.
Captive elephants were an important part of Lao culture and supported the livelihood of many rural communities, says Ingrid Suter, a research at the University of Queensland and the study’s lead author.
“Extinction of this population would lead to loss of income for the mahouts (elephant owners) and their communities, impact on tourism and the logging industry, and would mean the end of thousands of years of elephants and humans working alongside each other.”
The study shows the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population. It is estimated that only 480 captive elephants remain across Laos.
Female elephants require at least four years off work to produce and wean a calf, an unaffordable length of time for mahouts.
The researchers collaborated with ElefantAsia, a non-government organization, which aims to overcome this barrier through the Baby Bonus program.
The program works with mahouts to provide alternative income while their elephants are on “maternity leave,” and to ensure the calves are well cared for.
The University of Queensland’s Greg Baxter, the study’s senior author, says a wider management approach was needed to prevent further population decline.
“The small number of breeding-age females is limiting the growth of the captive Laos elephant population,” he says.
The study appears in Endangered Species Research.
“Increasing the breeding rate through programs such as the Baby Bonus is a good start, but it is unlikely to prevent population decline over the next 100 to 200 years.
“Establishing a rental agreement with other countries would allow the import and exchange of elephants for the purpose of breeding and provide benefit to all countries involved.”
Source: University of Queensland