Wildlife in Laos and the Unusual Role of Elephants
In Laos, a low population density and rugged terrain has contributed to relatively large areas of forest with diverse flora and fauna remaining untouched. The countryside contains habitat to over one hundred species of large mammals like tigers, Asian elephants and gaurs (wild cattle). Lao people regard the Asian elephant as a symbol of the power and potential of the forest. You can see plenty of images of them in temples and houses.
Lao habitats have an impressive diversity of primates like gibbons, macaques and leaf monkeys including the incredibly beautiful douc langur. Recently, Laos received international attention after the discovery of new wildlife species. The country supports over 165 kings of amphibians and reptiles, including species such as the rock python, king cobra and the large and noisy tokay gecko that like to live in people’s homes!
The high population growth rate of this developing Southeast Asian country, coupled with a natural resource-based economy is leading to increased pressure on the remaining natural forests and wildlife biodiversity. Habitat-loss due to extensive logging, over-hunting of endangered species as well as the animals on which they prey, and persecution by angry farmers protecting their farm fields are the greatest danger to the conservation of these endangered species. For example, nowadays only 30 tigers (WWF) and about 1000 elephants remain, of which an estimated 500 work in the lumber industry harvesting timber.
For many hundreds of years, humans trained elephants to help them explore and exploit wild landscapes in Laos. Elephants were extensively used in logging operations to transport cut timber and supplies over terrain that is impassable for vehicles. However, as new technologies emerge, logging elephants are no longer required and are increasingly being absorbed by the tourism sector. Today elephants in Lao PDR carry travelers through the forests. Researchers, naturalists, and scientists also continue to use the elephant as a means of exploring and carrying equipment.
There is a diverse window of opportunity for your travelers to interact with elephants. This can range from feeding them and bathing them in the river. The Elephant Village near Luang Prabang is a community that rescues elephants from abusive work and gives them a new home in a natural habitat. This ecotourism initiative also supports inhabitants of neighboring villages by giving them employment as maintenance workers, cooks and guides for the lodge at Elephant Village.
This majestic animal is a creature with such a rich history and high cultural value for the Lao people. The Elephant Village sanctuary and resort is definitely a fun alternative to add an extra day on your travelers’ itinerary for Luang Prabang.
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Picture of elephant: Photo by Allie_Caulfield