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Life differs from lore for elephants



Vietnamese children begin to associate elephants with images of mountainous Tây Nguyên (the Central Highlands) from a young age, through a popular song called Chú Voi Con Ở Bản Đôn (The Little Elephant in Đôn Village).

While the lyrics tell of elephants well-loved by local villagers, they are nonetheless domesticated and carry out arduous tasks. What’s missing from the lyrics is that, in reality, the number of elephants in Việt Nam is falling alarmingly, and while conservation efforts are indeed being discussed and funded, the massive creature is at serious risk of extinction.

Elephants have been part of the lives of villagers in the Central Highlands for centuries and have long been a cultural symbol known around the entire country.

It’s agreed that elephants are smart animals, with an incredible capacity to pick up simple skills quickly. They can be of great assistance to those who work the land, as they are more than capable of hard slog and heavy lifting.

Logging is where they are especially useful, having been taught how to uproot trees and move them around with their trunks. Away from “work”, they are often seen at festivals, which gives tourists a generally positive image of the beast when visiting places like the highlands’ Đắk Lắk Province.

HANGING OUT: Bun Khăm and Y Khun – two best friends. Photo Animals Asia

Elephants are common characters in tales from the past.In Sơn Tinh Thủy Tinh (Mountain Genie and Water Genie), where two men compete for permission to marry the king’s daughter, a host of unique animals are featured, like elephants with nine tusks.

The elephants were considered trustworthy and helpful warriors in Việt Nam’s past history. They appeared in historical records of Trưng sisters, two Vietnamese heroines who rode elephants to lead the uprising against the Chinese Han domination in the first century. Elephants also fought by the side of King Quang Trung as he repelled the aggressors from Qing China in 1789.

From their last five years of intensive research, Dương Văn Thọ, Nguyễn Thúy Hằng and Hoàng Văn Chiên from the People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) released the “Elephants in the Central Highlands: Survival Threatened by Declining Population” report, analysing existing conservation efforts and suggesting how such efforts might be better executed.

“The domesticated elephants in Đắk Lắk were wild before they were tamed, so are used to a lot of food and water,” said Phạm Văn Láng, vice president of the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre.

“After being brought to the village, however, they are trained to serve tourists and given less food, and when they are sick the care and attention they need is slow in coming. This is why the domesticated population is declining in great number.”

According to PanNature, the five Central Highlands provinces of Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Lâm Đồng boast a high degree of biological diversity.

The region’s forested area was 2,557,322 hectares in 2018, with a high coverage rate of 46 per cent. The region’s natural parks, nature reserves, and habitat and species conservation areas play essential roles in preserving wildlife found on the Việt Nam Red List and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

Alarming reality

The elephants found in Việt Nam are categorised as the Asian elephant and considered “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and “critically endangered” on the Việt Nam Red List, and found in Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), there were 91 domesticated elephants in Việt Nam in 2018, down from 165 in 2000. The 1,500-2,000 wild elephants in the country in 1990 have now dwindled to 124-148.

Elephants are losing their natural habitat and food sources and their altered movements and migratory paths are leading to serious, even dangerous, encounters with humans. Large swathes of land that were previously forest now serve economic development and national defence. Wild animals have long had their seasonal migration paths and know where they can find food and where it’s safe to breed.

Now that these areas have undergone great change, the animals destroy the industrial crops being planted, triggering huge economic losses and affecting the daily lives of farmers. Without a sustainable food source, the wild elephants must leave the forest for the fields, harming property and threatening locals’ lives.

The situation has become particularly dire in recent times, with wild elephants coming out of their newly-bare habitat after the Government assigned forestry companies to reclaim forested areas.

“In the entire area where wild elephants live these days, only the very centre of Yok Đôn National Park is virtually untouched by humans,” Bảo Huy, head of the research team on elephant conservation in Đắk Lắk at the Central Highlands University’s Department of Forestry, said with regret.

“Northwest of Ea Súp District, which is the ideal natural habitat for wild elephants, tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been assigned to companies planting rubber trees.”

BROUGHT TO HEEL: The hunting of wild elephants are re-enacted at a local festival. Photo

Conservation efforts

The MARD has since 1996 decided a course of action to conserve the elephant population. The Prime Minister followed that up with a decision in 2006, containing a five-year urgent conservation action plan.

Positive outcomes were gained during those five years, including the completion of elephant conservation projects in the provinces with the largest elephant populations: Đắk Lắk, Đồng Nai and Nghệ An. At the same time, the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre was established to care for and support elephant reproduction.

The Prime Minister issued a decision in 2012 on an urgent action plan to 2020 regarding conservation efforts.

The following year the Prime Minister launched the “Extensive Conservation of Vietnamese Elephants between 2013-2020” project, with an estimated funding of VNĐ278 billion from the State budget and donations from foreign individuals and organisations.

According to the MARD, the project had reached certain goals by 2018, such as reductions in elephant hunting and killing, increases to elephant numbers, and fewer conflicts between elephants and humans.

Đắk Lắk began its conservation scheme early, reporting that VNĐ61 billion had come from the People’s Committee for the Elephant Conservation Project between 2010-2015.

Focus was placed on the sustainable management of wild elephants, the development of the domesticated elephant business, the preservation of indigenous cultural identities, and expanding education on ecological environments.

In 2013, the provincial authorities approved an “Emergency Project on Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation until 2020”.

A conference report says that “After 5 years of the conservation project, it had posted results by 2018 in estimating the number of elephant herds and conducting supervisory activities, as well as identifying and improving their habitats by adding water sources and planting food sources, proposing and implementing solutions to reduce human-elephant conflict, such as natural habitat conservation and the construction of fences in Đồng Nai and Nghệ An; strengthening enforcement capacity through training, equipment provision, inter-agency cooperation, and international cooperation; and bolstering the defences of local communities with instructional exercises and conflict prevention aids, while improving the livelihoods of people in areas shared with elephants.”

WATER & WASH: Staff at the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre lovingly take care of their elephants. Photo

According to the Journal of Natural Resources and Environment, the 14 remaining wild elephants in northern Nghệ An are in the two national parks of Pù Mát and Pù Huống.

The parks’ regional conservation project has built 29 km of forest patrol roads, three end stations, two fire watch huts, and 4.43 km of stone trenches to prevent elephants from destroying crops. No elephants have been hunted since 2013, and two calves were born at Pù Mát.

Clear conservation measures have been taken at Đắk Lắk’s Yok Đôn National Park.

“Three elephants are allowed to roam free, to protect the biodiversity,” a park representative said. “Elephant rides were very popular in the past, but we have been promoting new tours in the national park to watch elephants in their natural habitat. Ending the rides improves animal welfare and minimises the potential for accidents, as some visitors have been thrown off the elephants over the years.”

OLD-TIMER: 50-year-old Bun Khăm drinks water under the watchful eye of her mahout, Y Muh. Photo Yok Đôn National Park

“The care given by local people to conserve the elephant population is only superficial,” said Trần Quốc Chiến, a young local man involved in an elephant conservation scheme that teaches kids about elephants.

“Through my project, I can see that elephant conservation involves the conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. I have been able to watch elephants in their natural habitat and see how they interact with each other. Elephant welfare is taken seriously here.”

While some elephants have destroyed crops on their seasonal migrations, Animals Asia has financially compensated a number of farmers for their losses.

The efforts of Animals Asia encourage local people to raise their awareness about the importance of elephant welfare and to cooperate with organisations and the Government in the overall scheme of elephant protection.

LEAVING A MARK: Thoong Ngân breaks off small branches with her trunk. Photo Animals Asia

With COVID-19 pandemic causing major economic issues worldwide, governments have been enforcing bans on the illegal sale and trade of wild animals.

The Prime Minister issued a directive on July 23, containing immediate solutions for managing wild animals. He has been resolute in abolishing the consumption of wild animals and imposed sanctions on those continuing to break the law.

The Prime Minister has also asked ministries to improve how they work together in dealing with the illegal ivory trade and tightened wildlife husbandry. Of particular note, State officials and their relatives have been specifically directed to follow the law and are strictly forbidden from engaging in the illegal purchase, sale, transportation, possession, or advertising of wildlife products.

Effective schemes

Despite the decade-long effort to help the elephants, inherent issues remain. Policy enforcement coordination between management bodies is lacking.

The time from a policy being introduced to practical effects being seen is far too long and the procedures and paperwork involved are burdensome. Policies are still being implemented independently, with little in the way of co-operation between authorities at all levels, from commune and district to province, and forest owners, including forestry companies, management boards, individual households, and local communities.

Đặng Huy Huỳnh, head of the Vietnam Zoological Society, suggested authorities step up overall efforts.

“I don’t believe there is sufficient supervision over policies for elephant conservation,” he said. “Because of this lack of supervision, the elephants’ natural habitat is often destroyed and the sale of ivory and other elephant-related goods remains rampant, with no one taking responsibility. Regional officials must be held responsible for declining elephant numbers.”

The exact number of Central Highlands elephants is unknown, as funding has never been available for a reasonably accurate count. Numbers are roughly determined based on observations or footprints, while the most effective method of examining an elephant’s DNA costs some US$3,000 per sample.

A lot more research still needs to be done to help improve the quality of conservation activities, such as examining the reasons why elephants and humans are in conflict and sharing experiences of such conflict with other local people, so that precautionary measures can be taken.

Changes are needed so that a precious creature and cultural symbol of the Central Highlands and Việt Nam lives long into the future. VNS



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Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien



La Cha Village in the northern mountainous province of Dien Bien’s Nam Po District is home to a Cong ethnic community, one of the five ethnic minority communities in the province with 79 households and nearly 400 inhabitants.

Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien
La Cha Village in Nam Po District, one of the few villages in the northern mountain province of Dien Bien where the ethnic Cong people live.

The living conditions of the Cong people in the village have improved in the past few years due to support from the Government and local authorities.

Investment projects on infrastructure construction, agricultural production, and cultural preservation in the district have helped change the lives of local people.

Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien
Cong children in La Cha Village have fun during their extracurricular school hours. VNA/VNS Photos Xuan Tien

The village is now connected with the electricity network, while roads, schools, and bridges have been built, creating convenient conditions for people to develop all aspects of life.

Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien
A traditional dance featuring the manual farming works of Cong ethnic people in La Cha Village, Dien Bien Province.
Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien
An old woman of the Cong ethnic group doing some manual cultivation work in the garden.
Lives of Cong ethnic people in Dien Bien
Some festivals, cultural rituals and spiritual beliefs of families and clans in the village are performed by a shaman. VNA/VNS Photos Xuan Tien

In the past, Cong people had very difficult lives as they depended a lot on self-sufficiency and migration.

They earned their living just by manual cultivation on slash-and-burn fields, so crop productivity was very low.  VNS


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UAE forecasts strong growth in trade with VN



On December 2, 2020, the UAE celebrates the 49th anniversary of the founding of the federation under the slogan “Spirit of the Union”. Dr Ezzat Abdulwahed Sayed, political and economic analyst from the UAE Embassy in Hà Nội, writes for Việt Nam News.

On this day in 1971, the UAE started its first journey towards progress and development to achieve its pioneering ambition in all fields as the embodiment of the “UAE Vision 2021” which aims to make the precious UAE one of the best countries in the world on the 50th anniversary of its establishment.

Dubai City. Courtesy Photo of UAE Embassy

Every year in which Emiratis celebrate their National Day, they touch on the great development achievements of the country during the previous year, and what they aspire to achieve during the next year. This is all within the framework of a comprehensive development vision that does not satisfy only the forefront but is concerned with the present and the future, and is in the midst of competition in the field of development with confidence, based on proper planning and production of knowledge, and looking at national human cadres as the most important wealth of the nation and its real investment.

Since its establishment in 1971, the foreign policy of the UAE has been characterised by wisdom, moderation, balance, and advocacy of truth and justice, based on the foundations of dialogue and understanding between brothers and friends, respect for international conventions, adherence to the United Nations Charter, respect for the rules of good neighbourliness, sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs and resolving disputes by peaceful means.

The UAE has witnessed a wide openness to the outside world, which has resulted in the establishment of strategic political, economic, commercial, cultural, scientific, educational and health partnerships with many countries in various continents, thus enhancing the prestigious position it occupies in the international community.

The UAE economy has made an exceptional performance thanks to the country’s long-standing desire to adopt a development policy based on diversifying sources of income and supporting non-oil sectors. The country’s economy is characterised by the infrastructure of stable and balanced performance despite all its surrounding regional and international challenges.

As a responsible, committed member of the international community, the UAE strongly condemns terrorism and extremism in all forms, and demonstrates its commitment to confront, degrade and eradicate terrorism and extremism across the region and worldwide.

The UAE is also considered one of the leading countries in the field of humanitarian giving through its successive initiatives in all fields and arenas of charitable and humanitarian work at local and international levels. The leadership of the Emirates believes that humanitarian work is a moral responsibility and a duty that embodies solidarity and synergy between peoples and nations.

The UAE has always been proactive in carrying messages of peace and co-operation initiatives to the whole world, and for this it has been keen on building friendly, high-level relations with various countries around the world.

Since the UAE and Việt Nam officially established diplomatic relations in 1993, significant achievements have been recorded in diplomatic, economic and other aspects of the relationship, and after more than 25 years of diplomatic relations, the UAE and Việt Nam are considered key economic partners in Southeast Asia and the Middle East thanks to their open economic policies.

Bilateral trade and investment have developed rapidly, with the two countries becoming mutual strategic partners in trade and economy. The non-oil trade balance reached more than US$8.2 billion in 2018, which represents 34 per cent of the total non-oil trade between the UAE and ASEAN countries. The UAE is considered Việt Nam’s top trading partner in the Middle East region, including the GCC and Africa.

Over the past two decades, the UAE has also been acknowledged as one of the leading foreign investors in Việt Nam, and we are confident that this trade and investment relationship will continue to grow stronger.

UAE businesses have been investing in infrastructure, real estate, sea ports, oil and gas, tourism and services in Việt Nam, while Vietnamese businesses have been investing in wholesale and retail trade, motor vehicle repair and real estate.

The UAE is a gateway for Việt Nam to penetrate the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, Việt Nam is an important gateway for the UAE to Southeast Asia and the Far East. The two countries have much potential to boost co-operation in the fields of renewable energy, metallurgy, ship repair, petro-chemistry, chemicals, mechanics and manufacturing

For its part, the UAE attaches great importance to relations between the two countries and hopes to enhance trade relations between the two countries and raise them to higher levels in line with the level of bilateral relations and the aspirations of the leaderships, raising trade to $20 billion by 2025. VNS


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Art events infused with innovative technology at Arcan



Double+, a series of art events infused with innovative technologies such as audio/visual and motion-sensor systems, and an interactive wall, is opening at Arcan until November 27. File photo from the organiser’s Facebook page

HCM CITY — Double+, a series of art events infused with innovative technologies such as audio/visual and motion-sensor systems, and an interactive wall, is opening at Arcan until Friday.

The event features American artist Mike Hodges and Vietnamese artist Trần Nguyễn Ưu Đàm. They have showcased their artworks by integrating video mapping with audio/visual effects to create a high-tech, immersive and aesthetic interaction with the viewers.

The artists have also offered decorative artwork performances and a talk show at the event. 

The event is open from 7-10 pm at 236/29/2H Điện Biên Phủ Street in Bình Thạnh District. Tickets at VNĐ300,000 can be purchased at — VNS


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