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Protecting the Elephants of Ban Na

The elephant observation tower at Ban Na is part of an action plan to help the elephants of Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area to survive. Whether this will be possible in the long run is unknown, since the herd apparently has no contact and therefore no genetic exchange with members of other herds and is thus prone to inbreeding. Nevertheless, this herd with its forty or more members still shows signs of health, with at least two to three calves born annually - as observed in the past three years from 2004 to 2006/7).

Again, due to dwindling suitable habitat, this herd now lives in a small area around Ban Na. From time to time it raids the fields of not only this village, but of seven neighbouring villages as well!

In 2004, three elephants were killed in this area, and early 2006 another one. This amounts to nearly ten percent of its population! The killers have not been found or arrested. Two elephants (one male, one female, both relatively young) were found dead with gunshotwounds near Ban Laokha. They probably had to die after they were found feasting on crops on a farmer's field. It is not clear where the actual shooting took place. They may have even walked seriously wounded over a longer distance.

Another (male) elephant died only one kilometre away from the elephant observation tower. In this case, poachers from outside went for the sixty centimetres long tusks, the ears, tail, toes and nipples. The carcass had to be burnt with a Buddhist ceremony. The fourth animal met the same fate, though relatively far from the tower. Its skull has been salvaged and is now on display in the tower as reminder of the ongoing killing of elephants.

May the tourists coming here to watch the wild elephants of Ban Na help to prevent such sad incidents in the future!

Please note: poachers have killed 5 elephants in the park in March 2009 (please see more in this website under <elephants info "news">)

Ban Na villagers’ protection plan

The Ban Na villagers show a great concern for the elephants and their habitat in Phou Khao Khouai National Park. In the beginning of 2003 they wrote a letter to the authorities of Thaphabath District in Bolikhamsay Province. On this webpage we translated it from Lao to English.

Additionally, in January 2005 they sent a request for support regarding the particular protection of a male elephant with long tusks (about 60 centimetres long) to the government authorities concerned. The villagers are worried about the fate of this rare individual. One day it might fall victim to poachers too. It has to be noted that these actions were entirely initiatives of the villagers themselves!

Lao People's Democratic Republic
Bolikhamxai Province
Thaphabath District
Tourist Guide Unit
Ban Na Village

Proposal on the protection and conservation of the important forested area around Tad Nam Tok waterfall under the management of the Ban Na village

In accordance with the government policy on the protection and conservation of the forest and Tad Nam Tok waterfall and with the agreement of Dr. Klaus Schwettmann, National Tourism Authority Advisor, in establishing ecotourism in Ban Na Village.

I, Bounthanom Inthilard, age 44 and presently working as a farmer in Ban Na village and representing the tourist guide unit, am pleased to inform the district governor and the concerned government unit in Thaphabath on the issue below.

Issue: to protect and conserve Tad Nam Tok waterfall and its forest as a potential tourism area in the district in accordance with the agreement of the guide unit and the village authority. There are five main areas proposed, as following:

 

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forested area of Don Khuang, Yod Huay, and Hon Noi to Kha Leuang Stream and Tad Kok Noi waterfall;
  - Tad Fa waterfall in Houay Xai, which is 50 metres high and rich in biodiversity;
  - waterfall, Si Than cave and Nam Hi river with their beautiful scenery;
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Kheng Khani (rapids) or Vang Song Hong, Nam Hi river to the South of Si Kha cave, which are the places where villagers from four or five lother villages use to go fishing and hunting;
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saltlick in Nam Xai is the place where many elephants are found to drink water. The National Tourism Authority is considering to build a hide to watch the elephants in this area.

These five areas are the main areas to be targeted for an ecotourism project and which we, the Ban Na authority and the tourist guides, would like to conserve and not destroy.

In addition, we also prepared some rules to prohibit anyone going to hunt or cause damage in these areas as following:

 

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do not do unsustainable fishing by using explosives, poison or any other harmful material. Instead, it is only allowed to use fishing nets (this is legal);
  - do not hunt in the tourism and conservation area;
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do not practice slash or burn agriculture which damages the forest and wildlife habitat;· do not use a diving mask while fishing;
  -
be aware of forest fires. Be careful when cooking in the forest;
  -

do not damage any construction of the project such as the hide, or toilets when you go trekking.

If you have any questions, please visit to the tourist guide unit in Ban Na Village.

Thus, we would like to cooperate with the concerned authorities to conserve the country's beautiful tourism area. Finally, we would like to inform the above mentioned authority to consider and give us a feedback on this proposal. We hope that you would decide in favour of or proposal.

Head of Ban Na
Village
Head of the Tourist
Guides
Village Authority
Mr. Ving Hung
Sayavong
Sgd. Mr. Bounthanom
Mr. Lienkham


Construction of the elephant tower

Constructed in 2005, an elephant observation tower at Ban Na gives tourists the possibility of seeing a large endangered and much adored species from a close distance in its natural habitat. The aim is to help villagers, whose fields are regularly raided by elephants, through a new source of income generated by tourists.

Tourism may raise awareness among the local people (and we feel that we succeeded so far) to appreciate their natural heritage. With the tower we also hope to contribute to a broader environmental understanding among the Lao youth and foreign visitors alike.

To ensure the safety of the tower and, of course, our guests, we visited a number of people with ample experience and specific knowledge about elephants prior to the construction. We would therefore like to express our sincere gratitude for giving us much appreciated advice and very useful suggestions to:

Sangduen ‘Lek' Chailert ( Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand), Roland Eve (WWF Laos, Vientiane), Siegfried Gross (GTZ Laos, Vientiane), Pittaya Homkrailas (Koh Chang Discovery Club, Koh Chang, Thailand), Arlyne Johnson (WCS Laos, Vientiane), Richard Lair (Lampang , Thailand), Dr. Mattana (Department of Forestry, Parks and Wildlife Division, Bangkok, Thailand) and John Roberts (c/o Anantara Resort, Chiang Rai, Thailand).

Very special thanks to the villagers of Ban Kiet Ngong and Ban Saming in Champassak (Southern Laos), whom we, the guides of Ban Na, visited on a week-long study tour and who have given us a lot of time to discuss the ‘elephant issue!.

With financial assistance from Canada Fund, the tower itself has been built by the villagers of Ban Na under supervision of Mr. Baxay Phanmaharath (architect, designer of the tower; formely GTZ) and regular inspection by Mr. Ongeun Panyanouvong (architect, NTA).

A strong reminder: Elephants are potentially dangerous

We mourn the death of a 58-year old villager from Ban Thangbeng, who was killed by an elephant while working in the field on Sunday, April 10, 2005. Our thoughts are with his family. This tragic incident has to be taken very seriously and is a strong reminder that elephants are dangerous and one has to be extremely careful during trekking inside elephant territory!

Though deeply disturbed by this accident, we believe it puts the aims of the project to an even higher dimension of meaningfulness.

In March 2009, five elephants were killed by poachers in the area. We need to be extra careful now since we do not know the reaction/behaviour of the rest of the elephants resulting from the loss of their peers.

Where are the proceeds of the elephant tower going?

For an overnight stay on the tower we have to charge a fee from each visitor. The proceeds go into the ‘Elephant Conservation and Research Fund’ which enables us to maintain and improve the tower and other facilities.

Since not only Ban Na is affected by the elephants, but also a string of seven more villages in its neighbourhood, we now can help these villagers in case of severe damages or losses caused by elephants. The tower itself, which is paid for by public money, stands on the private village land of Ban Na. It is not wise and fair, though, to let the other villages out since they are facing the same problems with the same elephants. Jealousy and frustration could arise, maybe with unwanted consequences. For example: Using this fund a compensation payment was particularly well received in the district, when we could support the old widow of a man who was killed by an elephant in 2005.

We also can hire other villagers as monitors, asking them to regularly give us information about the whereabouts and movements of the elephants as well as other valuable observation. This gives us hope to lay the foundation of a badly needed scientific research program about the elephant population in the park.

A highly engaged villager from Ban Na (Mr. Bounthanom) manages all affairs related to the tower and tourism in the village. For his great and indispensable work he is given a small salary from the fund. One cannot expect that one person is doing all the effort for the community without being rewarded with an incentive for such valuable work!

For the supervision of the fund and decisions about the spending of the money, a committee of nine persons has been established. These persons are representatives of seven villages (one per village) plus one each from the park and the district authorities. A detailed constitution has been drafted in order to avoid any misuse of the money.

Latest News
Animal Planet
Our approach to help mitigating the Elephant-human conflict in Ban Na has drawn the attention of the American TV-station "Discovery Channel". For their subsidiary "ANIMAL PLANET", a film crew has visited the village in January 2007 for one week to feature the project and Mr. Bounthanom in particular. This finally has been aired in Asia withhin a 4-part series about the Mekong: "Soul of A River" on December 29, 2007, and broadcast another two times in 2008. When it has been aired in Europe and America as announced we do not know.

Ban Na: The elephant observation tower at Ban Na is part of an action plan to help the elephants of Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area to survive. Whether this will be possible over the long run is still in question since the herd here apparently has no contact and therefore no genetic exchange with members of other herds and is thus prone to inbreeding. Nevertheless, this herd here with its 30 or so members still shows signs of health, with at least two calves born in 2005 or end of 2004, respectively.

Again due to habitat loss, this herd concentrates in only a small area around Ban Na and raids from time to time the fields not only of this village but five neighboring villages as well.

In 2004, three elephants were killed in this area, which amounts to about 30% of the population! The killers have not been found or arrested. Two elephants (one male, one female, both relatively young) were found dead with gun wounds near Ban Laokha. They probably had to die after they were found feasting on crops on a farmer's field. It is not clear where the actual shooting took place. They may have even walked seriously wounded over a longer distance. Another (male) elephant died only one kilometer away from the tower. Here obviously poachers from outside had an eye on the ca. 60 centimeters long tusks, the ears, tail, toes and nipples. The carcass had to be burnt with a Buddhist ceremony.

May the tourists coming here to the tower to watch the wild elephants of Ban Na help to prevent such sad incidents in the future!

Klaus Schwettmann, March 2005

Tragic Accident (2005)

We mourn the death of a 58-year old villager from Ban Thangbeng, who was killed by an elephant on Sunday, April 10, 2005, while working in the field. Our thoughts are with his family. This tragic incident has to be taken very seriously and is a strong reminder that elephants are dangerous and one has to be extremely careful during trekking inside elephant territory!

Though deeply disturbed by this accident, we believe it puts the aims of the project to an even higher dimension of meaningfulness.

K.S.

Poaching Elephants in Phou Khao Khouay (2009)

In March 2009, five (!) elephants have been killed in remote places iside the Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area (PKK NPA) by unknown poachers: 2 individuals (male and female, about three years old) near the Nam Hi river, about four kilometer from the Elephant Observation Tower of Ban Na, and three elephants off Ban Gnangkeua (about 10 km away from the village; one male and one female, one young calf) on the way to Tad Leuk.

We are pretty sure that the poachers are coming from outside and no villager from the immediate area should be blamed. These people were after the ivory as they have removed the tusks (and which fetches a high price on the international market!), as well as some other body parts, such as the tip of the trunk, tail hair, probably used for traditional medicine (aphrodisiac?) and occasionally for superstitious rites.

It is a very sad story and probably impossible to find the culprits we think are belonging to a professional criminal gang. Apparently the same people killed another elephant in the Phou Panang NPA just three weeks prior to the ones in Phou Khao Khoauy. Considering the low and still declining number of wild elephants in Laos - the latest estimate I got is around 600 individuals nationwide and less than 50 in PKK - this is a big blow to the entire population not only in Phou Khao Khoauy but the whole country.

Tourism, and thus visits to the elephant tower, is getting more important because it helps to raise awareness, not only among the local people but also (hopefully) in the relevant government circles. But we have to exercise extra care now since we do not know the reaction/behaviour of the remaining elephants resulting from the loss of their peers.

How many more elephants still have to die? Isn't it time and worth to do more research and take protection initiatives before they're all gone? I am convinced, for awareness raising the tower is needed more than ever!

A truly sad story!

K.S.

Participation in the Geotourism Challenge Competition 2009

We are proud to participate in the GEOTOURISM CHALLENGE Competition 2009, sponsored by Ashoka's Changemakers and National Geographic. Please see our entry under www.changemakers.com/geotourismchallenge. If you like it and would like to help Ban Na, you may vote for us in July...