PRLog - March 25, 2010 - The future protection of wild elephants in Laos’s Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area received a boost last week when the Lao government took over the activities of the Nakai Elephant Programme, supported by the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC).
Elephants at an artificial mineral lick in the NT2 area. Photo: A.McWilliam/WCS
The Nakai Elephant Programme was set up in 2004 by NTPC, with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The programme has been refined over the last five years in conjunction with local authorities in Nakai district, Khammouane province. On Friday March 19, WCS officially handed over the running of the programme to NTPC, which at the same time announced that the government would implement the programme’s two main initiatives. Activities to prevent human-elephant conflict around the National Protected Area will be conducted by the Nakai District Agriculture and Forestry Office. Monitoring and maintenance of the artificial mineral licks – already installed in the protected area by the programme - will come under the jurisdiction of the Watershed Management and Protection Authority, a government agency which has NTPC funding until 2031.
The mineral licks were designed to replace natural salt sources that are now covered by the Nakai Reservoir, which provides the water for the Nam Theun 2 Power Station.
Elephants need to regularly consume salts to complement their herbivorous diet. Human-elephant conflict is recognised as a problem in all countries with wild elephants. As growing human populations expand into natural habitat, animals sometimes raid fields to eat fruit and vegetable crops, causing loss and damage to farmers’ property. Under the NEP, villagers learn about the behaviour of elephants and can call a rapid response team from the district office whenever elephants approach their fields. The team then rushes to the site of any field incursions and scares the elephants away with noise devices.
According to Stephen Duthy of the NTPC Environmental Management Office, the elephant population in Nakai and Gnommalath districts accounts for around 20% of all wild elephants in Laos, and is bigger than the entire wild elephant population in Cambodia, in China, and in Vietnam. Mr Duthy said that all people in the area had a big responsibility to take care of the elephants and thanked WCS staff for their efforts in developing the Nakai Elephant Programme to a point where the government was able to assume ownership. He added that NTPC will continue to fund the NEP and to provide additional technical support to ensure the programme’s further development and success.
WCS Lao Country Director, Ms Arlyne Johnson said the NEP was unique, and that other elephant conservation projects both in and outside Laos would learn from the project. Nakai is the first district in Laos to monitor human-elephant conflict over a long period and to devise a crop protection system. The artificial mineral licks are also new to Laos and are among the first in Asia.
Mr Liangkham Phangouthai, Deputy Governor of Nakai, called on villagers to continue to work with government experts to guard fields and to monitor elephant movements and use of mineral licks. He said the animals represent a special asset, and that the people of both Gnommalath and Nakai need to work to protect this natural treasure.
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The Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) is the developer and operator of the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project in the Lao PDR. The Project is a public-private partnership designed to generate electricity for export to Thailand and domestic use in Laos. Revenues accruing to the Lao government during NTPC's concession period, estimated at over US$2 billion, are to be used to fund poverty alleviation in the country. Nam Theun 2 is structured as an industrial and a development Project which places great emphasis on protection of the environment and sustainable social programmes that will improve the livelihoods of people in the Project area. After 25 years of operation from 2010, the Project will be transferred to the Lao State. See www.namtheun2.com.