Dong Nai province, Vietnam – Dinh Quan is aware of simply the correct spot to hang around on a heat day.
A pool of unpolluted water with contemporary grass and a few bamboo shoots close by, ideally with vines hanging inside simple attain and exhibiting no indicators of being toxic.
Tailing behind Dinh Quan is his junior, Bien Dong, which implies “South Sea” in Vietnamese. He’s studying the ropes of jungle dwelling from his senior who’s no less than 15 years outdated.
The 2 tusk buddies are wild Asian elephants dwelling within the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, a conservation area in Vietnam which incorporates the Cat Tien Nationwide Park, and the place an modern undertaking utilizing “digicam traps” is below option to create a novel catalogue of “elephant ID playing cards” for the world’s much-diminished population of pachyderms.
Pruthu Fernando, chairman of the Sri Lanka-based Centre for Conservation and Analysis, advised Al Jazeera that in contrast to human society the place age and expertise confer a level of respect, amongst elephants it’s dimension and physique mass that decides their social hierarchy.
Fernando, who’s an adviser to the United Kingdom-based Humane Society Worldwide (HSI), stated that when elephants attain puberty, at roughly 10 years of age, they drift from the near-constant care of their moms to affix different male elephants in social teams.
That’s the reason Bien Dong and Dinh Quan had buddied up and the way a photograph of the 2 trundling in direction of a waterhole was caught by movement sensor cameras in April. The cameras are part of an elephant conservation project spearheaded by HSI’s Vietnam chapter and native authorities in southern Dong Nai province.
“That is the one undertaking in Vietnam in the case of elephants, which supplies elephant ID playing cards for every particular person,” Nguyen Mai, senior wildlife programme supervisor at HIS Vietnam, advised Al Jazeera.
“Nobody else has performed this,” Mai stated of the 60 “digicam traps” working within the Dong Nai conservation space, which is positioned roughly two hours’ drive from Vietnam’s enterprise capital Ho Chi Minh Metropolis.
The cameras, inconspicuously hooked up to the trunks of timber alongside tracks that animals use to traverse the forest, have sensors that activate when giant mammals, like Bien Dong and Dinh Quan, move by.
Photos from the cameras are then compiled to create a list of the park’s particular person elephants utilizing traits resembling age, intercourse, bodily traits and their normal situation as a method to trace their motion and feeding habits, and monitor their well being and restoration instances if they’ve been injured or ailing.
The HSI knowledge compiled to create the distinctive “elephant ID playing cards” consists of greater than 16,000 photos collected throughout roughly 400 days of digicam monitoring from June 2022 onwards.
Evaluation of the photographic knowledge seems to indicate that there are no less than 27 elephants within the conservation space, a major improve from the earlier estimate of 14 pachyderms that had been thought to kind the entire inhabitants.
The information additionally signifies that the herd of 27 is in good situation with a mean well being index rating larger than elephants present in Sri Lanka, a rustic with a considerably bigger elephant inhabitants and the place they inhabit 60 % of the nation’s complete land space.
Consultants warning, nevertheless, that extra detailed knowledge must be collected to complement the digicam traps in Cat Tien to find out the exact dimension of the elephant inhabitants.
That’s no easy job.
HIS’s senior programme supervisor Mai has greater than 15 years’ expertise working with wildlife in Vietnam, however even she has not but seen any of Cat Tien’s elusive elephants within the wild, regardless of working within the Dong Nai area for 4 years.
Photos from the digicam traps are the closest that Mai has come to getting acquainted with the animals of their pure habitat.
Whereas digicam traps targeted on intently figuring out elephants are new to Vietnam, they’ve been utilized in different nations around the globe, resembling Thailand, India and Tanzania, in addition to elsewhere in Vietnam, however primarily to watch wild animals at giant.
The significance of manufacturing particular person id profiles for Vietnam’s elephants is underscored by the scenario nationally, the place as few as 130 elephants are nonetheless believed to be dwelling wild, a dramatic drop from an estimated 2,000 animals thought to roam the countryside within the early Nineteen Eighties.
That implies that right here in Dong Nai province, Dinh Quan and Bien Dong are amongst Vietnam’s second largest herd of elephants, simply behind Nghe An province within the nation’s northcentral area which has the biggest inhabitants.
Vietnam’s conservation efforts are restricted by assets and experience, so the HSI digicam traps assist fill a information hole about elephants whereas additionally coaching native officers of their use, Tran Thi Hoa, the nationwide coordinator of Vietnam’s elephant conservation programme, advised a workshop on selling human-elephant coexistence.
Excessive on the coexistence and conservation agenda is the difficulty of safety, when it comes to defending elephants and rural communities that share the identical habitats the place elephants like to roam.
Elephants in Nghe An province and Dak Lak within the Central Highlands transfer internationally throughout Vietnam’s distant borders with a part of Laos and Cambodia. In distinction, elephants in Dong Nai transfer internally inside Vietnam.
One methodology used regionally to stop elephants from stomping out of the nationwide park and conservation space is electrical fencing – a topic that some Vietnamese and worldwide consultants had been break up on ultimately week’s workshop.
Battle between elephants and residents dwelling close to the protected forests of Cat Tien has been reported on by native media over time, with whimsical headlines resembling, “The entire commune misplaced meals and sleep as a result of the Ong Bo knocked on the door.”
Ong Bo, which interprets as Mr Bo, is a respectful nickname locals use to confer with elephants who’ve visited their villages in search of tasty crops and creating mischief.
To stop these undesirable visits and to additionally maintain people out of the place the elephants roam, a 75km-long solar-powered electrical fence encloses a part of the reserve.
Tran Dai Nang, a ranger who works for the Dong Nai Forest Safety Division, stated there have been a whole bunch of conflicts reported between native folks and the pachyderms in three communes alone within the province, in response to surveys performed from 2020 to mid-2023.
In nearly half of these human versus mammal conflicts, the folks concerned screamed on the encroaching elephants, made loud noises to shoo the elephants away, and in some circumstances, used vibrant lights to frighten the animals whereas others threw sharp objects, and a few alerted forest rangers to behave.
The least-used technique was to calmly speak to the elephants and implore them to go away.
Elephants want a specific amount of house and so do people to hold out the requirements of on a regular basis life, stated Nang, the forest ranger.
Residents want to know that when elephants “come to go to” their fields and different areas, they aren’t going to hurt them, he stated.
“They’re solely coming to hang around with us. However it will require loads of time to realize” that understanding, he added.
On prime of diminished dwelling house because of the discount and degradation of pure forests in Vietnam, human and elephant conflicts come up – as in lots of different nations – from different man-made causes: encroachment on forest habitats, poor administration of conflicts after they do come up between people and mammals, and elephant populations not being thought-about in land-use planning.
Earlier this yr, Vietnam’s authorities determined to not enable the development of a freeway via the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve following opposition from the Dong Nai provincial authorities amid issues over the results on the area’s biodiversity.
There may be different indicators of hope for reconciliation between the worlds of people and elephants in Vietnam.
A analysis research revealed in 2022 discovered that folks dwelling across the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve wish to coexist with their elephant neighbours.
HSI’s programme supervisor Mai stated she hopes the images produced by the digicam traps will give the elephants identities, and that may present a greater understanding of their “wants and habits” and the way they’re affected by human behaviours.
The elephants want their voices heard, stated Mai, including, “They’ve the correct to talk and specific their opinion.”