Tusk thieves threaten Vietnam’s fast dwindling domesticated elephants

Thanh Nien News

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Thoong Ngan had it right tusk cut by thieves on July 14. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Thoong Ngan had it right tusk cut by thieves on July 14. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Several mahouts have been taking turns to look after a 20-year-old male elephant around the clock since it had a tusk almost cut off by some thieves on July 14.
“We used to be worried about elephants accidentally getting caught in traps set by poachers in the forest. Now, we have a new concern – tusk thieves,” Y Vi Xien, a mahout who takes care of the elephant called Thoong Ngan in Dak Lak Province, said.
The population of domesticated elephants in Dak Lak, which has plummeted from 500 in the 1980s to 43 now due to overwork from serving tourists and lack of food, now faces a new threat of being attacked by thieves for their tusks.
Xien said his work used to be easy before the recent theft attempt.
“I took it out to carry tourists in the morning and chained it in the forest for foraging at night,” Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted him as saying.
“Now, I don’t want to leave it for a moment, day or night.”
Xien and two other mahouts, Y Mut and Y Sieng Nie, have taken turns to take care of Thoong Ngan and another elephant, Thoong Ngam: “We hang hammocks to stay with them at night.”
The gory incident occurred on July 14 when Thoong Ngan was grazing in the Yok Don National Park in Dak Lak and the thieves used more chains to restrain the elephant before trying to saw off its right tusk.
The tusk was almost cut off but the elephant might have fought back and chased the thieves away.
Conservationists and veterinarians later had no choice but to cut off the tusk.
Do Quang Tung, director of Yok Don National Park, said the park has stepped up patrolling to protect the elephants.
“We have assigned more security guards and a rapid-action team with seven rangers to patrol the park around the clock.”
Thoong Ngan and Thoong Kham have the most beautiful tusks in the Central Highlands and even the country, Tung said.
They were domesticated more than 14 years ago after being caught in a forest in Binh Thuan Province.
“The biggest challenge for us is that people do not dare to let the elephants forage in the forest like before while their demand for food is huge,” Tung said.
“They have a wild nature and need nutrition from foods that can only be found in the forest.”
In April an elephant in Dak Lak succumbed to injuries after being attacked by thieves who stole its tail hairs. Many believe elephant tail hairs bring luck.
In 2011 Pak Cu, another elephant in Dak Lak’s Buon Don District, succumbed to hundreds of injuries caused by thieves who stole his tusks and tail.
Dak Lak is home to the largest number of domesticated pachyderms in Vietnam.

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