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May 05, 2014 10:02 AM EDT
Domesticated elephants in Laos will go extinct in about a century, a new study has found.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland in with ElefantAsia, found that captive elephants are not getting enough opportunities to breed. Fewer new elephants will lead to decline in the animal numbers in the future.
Once called “Land of a Million Elephants,” Laos currently has some 480 captive elephants. Loss of natural habitat, expansion of logging industry, poaching and ivory trade has led to the steep decline in elephant population in the region.
Traditionally, wild elephants were captured and domesticated. The ban on using wild elephants in logging industry has added pressure on the remaining captive elephants. These animals are overworked and as a result, unable to reproduce, according to the Elephant Conservation Center.
“Elephant ownership has long been associated with Lao culture and national identity,” Dr Ingrid Suter, from UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, lead author of the study. “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.”
ElefantAsia is a non-government organization that is working to save Laos elephants through the Baby Bonus program. The program involves sending the captive elephants on time off or leave to raise the calves and provide alternative source of income to mahouts in the meantime.
Dr Greg Baxter, from UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, said that better management strategies are required to conserve the dwindling population of elephants in the region.
“The small number of breeding-age females is limiting the growth of the captive Laos elephant population,” he said in a news release. “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.
The study is published in the journal Endangered Species Research.