Captive elephants in Laos face extinction

May 5, 2014
Captive elephants in Laos face extinction
A UQ study has shown the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population. Credit: ElefantAsia.

( —The captive elephant population in Laos will be extinct in just over a century if current management practices do not change, a University of Queensland study has found.

It is estimated that only 480 captive remain across Laos, and the study shows that changes to conservation management are necessary to prevent extinction.

The study's lead author, Dr Ingrid Suter, from UQ's School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, said captive elephants were an important part of Lao culture and supported the livelihood of many rural communities.

"Elephant ownership has long been associated with Lao culture and national identity," Dr Suter said.

"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.

Female elephants require at least four years off work to produce and wean a calf, an unaffordable length of time for mahouts.

UQ researchers collaborated with ElefantAsia, a non-government organisation 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.

UQ's School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management's Dr Greg Baxter, senior author on the study, said a wider management approach was needed to prevent further .

"The small number of breeding-age females is limiting the growth of the captive Laos ," he said.

"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."

The research was published in Endangered Species Research this month.

Explore further: Thai tourist industry 'driving' elephant smuggling

More information: Suter IC, Maurer GP, Baxter G (2014) "Population viability of captive Asian elephants in the Lao PDR." Endang Species Res 24:1-7. DOI: 10.3354/esr00578

Related Stories

Thai tourist industry 'driving' elephant smuggling

March 2, 2013

Smuggling the world's largest land animal across an international border sounds like a mammoth undertaking, but activists say that does not stop traffickers supplying Asian elephants to Thai tourist attractions.

Endangered Sumatran elephant born in captivity

April 16, 2013

A baby Sumatran elephant peeps out timidly from between the legs of its mother at an Indonesian zoo, where her birth has given a boost to the critically endangered animal.

Deadly virus threatens endangered elephants

June 17, 2013

( —Researchers are racing the clock to better understand a deadly virus which has the potential to intensify population declines in the endangered Asian elephant.

Poachers slay six elephants in Kenya

April 26, 2014

Poachers have slain six elephants including four calves in a private reserve in Kenya, wildlife officials said Saturday, as the country battles an upsurge in the illegal slaughter of elephants and rhinos.

Recommended for you

A common mechanism for human and bird sound production

November 27, 2015

When birds and humans sing it sounds completely different, but now new research reported in the journal Nature Communications shows that the very same physical mechanisms are at play when a bird sings and a human speaks.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.