Book Kham has become the latest elephant to die from lack of food and overwork in Dak Lak Province, home to most of Vietnam’s last captive elephants.
The 36-year-old male elephant was found dead on a slope where it had been grazing on January 16.
Huynh Trung Luan, director of the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, said his agency was conducting further investigation, but the initial cause of death was exhaustion .
“Initial investigation found no injuries on his body,” Luan said.
His front foot was still being chained and a section of its tusk was broken, possibly due to the collapse, he added.
Book Kham was one of the nine elephants Dam Van Long of the Central Highlands province claimed to own.
Long said a mahout had taken him to the forest to feed him and that the elephant had not shown any abnormal symptom before the sudden death.
Book Kham was among a small population of captive elephants in Dak Lak that are dying a slow death as they are overworked, starved and provided with little healthcare.
On April 9, 2013, a 63-year-old female elephant named Buon Nhang, kept by a local resident, died from overwork and hunger.
On February 11, 2013, H'plo, a 35-year-old female of Ban Don Tourism Center in Yok Don National Park, died under similar circumstances.
Dak Lak is known for its tradition of capturing elephants.
Even though the practice has been banned since 1985, many old elephants captured earlier are still considered possessions of the captors.
Their children are also kept in captivity. Book Kham was one of them.
The number of captive elephants in Dak Lak has plummeted from 502 in 1990, to less than 50 now.
Most elephants are forced to work day in day out, carrying four to five tourists per trip for several kilometers by road and crossing the Se Re Pok River.
After a day of drudgery, they are usually taken to a nearby forest and tied to a tree with a 50-meter chain for grazing, before being brought back to the tourist area for working the next morning.
This kind of animal mistreatment has been criticized for years, but the elephants still have not been released to their natural environment.