Although there were likely thousands of Asian elephants in Lao PDR at one time (in fact, Laos was originally named the Land of a Million Elephants, or Lane Xang), now the national population in the wild is estimated to be less than 700 individuals. These animals are revered by many people in Lao PDR and are regarded as cultural and religious symbols. Asian elephants are listed as endangered by IUCN, having declined by 50% in the wild over the past half-century. Wild elephants are mainly located in Khammouane and Bolikhamxay Provinces in the central part of the country and in SayaboulyProvince in the northeast.
In Lao PDR Asian elephants are increasingly threatened by habitat modification and illegal hunting. Fragmentation of habitat is an increasing problem, as new roads, agricultural expansion, dams and mines continue to proliferate and cut through natural areas. Conflicts between humans and elephants are not uncommon, as elephants roam outside of forested areas, which are becoming smaller and smaller, into agricultural areas. Protecting large enough,contiguous habitat to support elephants and reducing conflicts with localpeople are the key challenges.
WCS is working with local and international partners in several landscapes to conserve this majestic species. WCS has pioneered formal elephant surveys in Lao PDR and in recent years we have provided estimates for three key populations. We have also worked to secure the livelihoods of communities living with elephants by developing standardised methods to monitor human elephant conflict and trialling locally relevant cost-effective methods to mitigate this conflict.