Efforts to help save elephants end in failure

DONG NAI - Half of the wild elephants in Dong Nai Province have been wiped out in recent years, despite steps taken by the Prime Minister to save them. A project that he initiated five years ago to provide them with sanctuary in three "elephant" provinces by the year 2010 failed to get underway in the province.

Under the plan, Dong Nai in the south, Nghe An in the centre and Dak Lak in the Central Highlands were to co-operate with relevant bodies to protect the rare beasts.

The decision was made after the number of wild elephants fell from as many as 2,000 in 1975-80 to only 100 in 2006, said the director of the Dong Nai Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Pham Minh Dao.

The provinces were told to set aside wilderness areas for them and survey elephant populations in each.

They were also told to implant positioning devices in the elephants so they could be tracked, research their reproduction rates so that numbers could be increased, and stop poachers from killing them and trading their tusks, tails and meat.

The project got underway in Dak Lak and Nghe An provinces and research on their reproduction rates was gathered. Training courses were set up to train people in caring for them.

However, the project was not started in Dong Nai because authorities at different levels could not reach agreement on fund allocations for the project.

The wild elephants in Dong Nai province live in Vinh Cuu, Dinh Quan and Tan Phu districts.

Recently, farmers took over forest land for cultivation, restricting their living and feeding areas.

Nguyen Huu Ly, chairman of the Vinh Cuu District People's Committee said this apparently outraged the hungry elephants, who started feeding on farmers' crops, particularly at night, destroying the crops in the process.

Since 2007, the province has spent more than VND3 billion (S$185,705) compensating local residents whose farms have been damaged.

In the last two years, nine wild elephants in the province have been found dead and now only nine survive.

The project to save them was not implemented because authorities at different levels could not decide if funds to run it should be from the State or provincial budget, said Dao.

The province set up the project in 2008 expecting to spend about VND21.26 billion (S$1.30 million). Twenty per cent of the funds were supposed to come from the provincial budget, and the remainder from the State budget.

Under the Prime Minister's Decision 733 in 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) was assigned to join hands with the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Ministry of Finance to allocate money, he said.

However, until this day, the province had received no funds from MARD, said Dao.

Meanwhile, Ha Cong Tuan, director of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry under MARD, said the project was being implement by Dong Nai authorities so the work of allocating funds should be borne by the provincial People's Committee.

Deputy chairman of the provincial People's Committee Tran Van Vinh said the committee had approved a document from the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development asking it to lengthen the time frame for the elephant preservation project to 2012.

Meanwhile, Vuong Van Thinh, head of the Administration and Finance Division under the Department of Finance, said the department would soon have a reply to the provincial People's Committee about the source funding.

He said that after being approved by the committee, the plan would be submitted to the Prime Minister for a final decision.