Human-Elephant Conflicts in Tien Phuoc & Tra My Districts
Quang Nam Province, Vietnam

Author: Richard M. Perron, IUCN-CBSG,
Executive Director of Quantum Conservation e. V.
Varel, Germany,
Consultant to Senior Experten Service, Bonn, Germany
on behalf of the German Development Service (DED), Hanoi.

Dated: 17th December, 2001
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Introduction


Quang Nam Province is centrally located in Vietnam and has two autonomous towns and twelve administrative districts with a total population of 1,395,112 at the end of 2000. The total land area of 10,406.83 km2 is primarily used for agriculture, fishing and forestry and 81.14% of the population is employed in these activities.
The human population is effectively growing at a rate of 1.1 % per annum and this rate will increase on current projections for the future.
In those areas, near the Laotian border, where the elephants have traditionally have had their habitat human population growth is at it's highest. The districts of Tien Phuoc and Tra My contain 128,519 people and are growing at an average rate of 1.72%. The average household contains 7 people.
This has created severe pressure on the wildlife habitat through forest encroachment and changing land use.
Vietnamese wildlife is particularly rich in this central region and includes the elephant, tiger, Black bear, Muntjak, Douc langur, Sao la and several hundred indigenous bird, reptile, amphibian and plant species.
Although the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) population in Tam Ky province has drastically declined from hundreds of animals in 1980 (Tuoc 1991) to 21 - 23 in 1998 (Truyen 1999) human - elephant conflicts have been growing since 1994. This dramatic, contrary, development is inexplicable without further research. Botanists and biochemists with their expertise would be particularly welcome.
Fortunately, there have been no deaths or serious injuries from the elephants [August 2003 a villager was killed and a forest ranger severely injured]. This speaks strongly against relocation. However, the high level of human-elephant conflict through crop raiding (see appendix III) demands a solution.
A more detailed survey in Tra My and Tien Phuoc is required to establish the current elephant population and to guide their management.
Doctoral students from international and Vietnamese universities would be ideal candidates to lead the necessary research, training local people in survey techniques, so that long-term monitoring can be done.

The Elephant Population

This was never intended to be a current survey of elephants in the region, but no assessment can omit a visit to the field area under question. My first visit, to Tien Phuoc District, took place between December 5th and December 6th 2001. There were reports of an elephant having been seen on December 2nd and an excursion was made on Wednesday, December 5th to the area. We found a footprint (34 - 38 cms diameter) at GPS N15o 24' 58.9" E 108o 12' 49.7" and a pile of dung (approx. 10 kg in weight) at GPS N 15o 24' 59.8" E 108o 12' 48,1" of which photographs were taken (Appendix IV). Broken tree branches in the vicinity indicated recent feeding. A local farmer, Mr Nguyen Dinh Duong, confirmed that he had observed a lone elephant on December 2nd in the area. Forest Ranger Mr Tran Van Nhang added that the elephant he observed on that date had tusks about 30 cm long.
From sightings, particularly during crop raiding, it would seem that there might be two herds (6 and 4) and one lone male. However, since sightings do not happen at the same time and crop damage also has not happened in two places simultaneously, the lower figure below may well be correct.
Bringing up-to-date the survey by Cheryl Nash and Trinh Viet Cuong we would have the following elephant sightings/population estimates in the districts of Tien Phuoc and Tra My:-

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total*
1995 8/15
1996 22/29
1997 8/26
1998 13/14
1999 (TD) 4(TD) 4(CS) 11/41
2000 4(TL) (MC) (MC) 4(TL) 7/11
2001 4(TL) 4(TN) 4(TH) 6(CS) 4(TN)
4(TL)
1(TH) 7/11
* Minimum/Maximum number of elephants
TH = Tien Hiep, TN = Tien Ngoc, TL = Tien Lanh, CS = Cao Son, MC = Mau Ca


Recent activity by elephants in 2001 has regrettably caused extensive crop damage in Tien Lanh, Tien Ngoc and Cao Son (Appendix III) communes. A number of houses were also damaged. Total recorded damage for 2001 exceeds VD 1,957 million (US$ 130,000) and is the highest ever.
Despite wishes to the contrary, it is not considered possible to avoid future crop damage under the present scenario. It can, perhaps, be minimised through re-designing crop fields, changing the type of crops grown and physical elephant barrier measures, but not excluded. The intensive land use and the type of crops favoured at the moment mitigate against a real chance of a solution. Either the elephants go, or substantial human relocation must take place.
Removing the elephants from the area, as proposed by other authorities, might entail a number of elephant deaths, as has been the case with other recent attempts at Translocation elsewhere. This is not considered to be an option for Quang Nam Province in view of the now tiny extant Vietnamese elephant population. The risk is considered to be too high.
Human relocations should be given high priority. The relocation of families from Tien Hiep in 1999 would seem to have been successful in reducing conflict there, but this may just be a temporary phenomenon.
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If Vietnam, Quang Nam Province, is serious about maintaining it's unique wildlife, it must be prepared to adopt adequate measures to accommodate the respective animals, if necessary at the expense of discomforting some of the human population. Elephants play an important role in maintaining general biodiversity and other species are dependent on them for long-term survival. If Quang Nam Province wishes to participate in the expanding global economic market for ecotourism, the elephants are a key attraction which need to be considered in any long-term calculations.

Recommendations

General recommendations

1. It is essential that the political will to protect the elephants be clearly established at all levels and public commitments made.
2. Urgency should be given to a detailed elephant population status survey of Tien Phuoc and Tra My districts. Without such a survey, it is foolish to make predictions about population numbers, potential range expansion and optional measures to protect the local human community or the elephants. This survey could be combined with more generalistic objectives to include other rare mammals, birds, reptiles & amphibians - if not also invertebrates - which might later benefit both science and ecotourism. An analysis, particularly with regard to the possible contamination through 'Agent Orange', or other herbicides, should be conducted at the same time with a view to explaining the change in elephant behaviour since 1994, although the raiding may only have been recorded since then.
3. An agreed GPS system should be used so that definitions are comparable. Publication of all data must adhere to this GPS format. With the heralded GIS system this will be critical.
4. The extent of the remaining primary forest should be exactly determined using GPS.
5. Illegal logging and cutting of trees continues to degrade the forest and the FDP should be given full support and manpower to minimise this.
6. The Forest Protection Department (FPD) should be given full responsibility for collecting all data about elephant activities within the province. This information should be solicited at least once a week and not just when damage occurs. The local FPD staff should be increased, where necessary, to cope with this.
7. A new format to record more detailed information would be useful for subsequent analysis. Particularly the precise location of crop damage, using GPS, since the description "Village 1" could mean a five kilometre radius.
8. Photographs should, in the future, be taken of all damage so that the extent can be independently assessed.
9. An "early warning" system to advise about elephant movements using short-wave radio should be installed for the FPD to be used in conjunction with the watchtowers.
10. The television/radio media should be used regularly to broadcast measures on how to avoid elephant - human conflict.
11. Translocation of elephants to other environments should only be considered if relocation of most households in the Degree 1 level category of threat proves impossible. If the current level of economic damage continues, or escalates, it will be impossible to sustain a fraction of the necessary compensatory payments.

Protection for elephants

1. A protected area status, Species Conservation Area, should be applied to the area as defined in Appendix I. According to Thai Truyen (1999) the total area is 24,979 ha. The boundaries are the river Khang in the south and the river Tranh in the west, which are considered normally to be natural barriers but may only serve as 'temporary' limits for the elephants (see appendix V). The other two sides are roads or tracks of varying quality (Tien Hiep to Tien Lanh and Tien Hiep to the river Khang by Tra My). These roads form the edges of the known elephant range. The choice of these roads is in several places unsatisfactory, but for management purposes they clearly define the borders for humans.
2. Signs indicating the status of Species Conservation Area should be placed prominently on every road and track going into the area in Vietnamese. At the junction in Tien Hiep, a larger notice announcing arrival at the area and it's purpose should also be prominently displayed.
3. A broadsheet, leaflet, should be distributed to every household within the proposed area explaining the reasons for the measure and defining the boundaries. The benefits of tourism to come and a common sacrifice necessary to preserve the Vietnamese elephant might make people more friendly towards the change.
4. Agricultural land within this area should be officially reassigned as forestland and planted with suitable elephant friendly vegetation. Since the preferences are known from raiding, some of these might be used. Local labour would benefit directly from this work.
5. Domesticated elephants (5?) could be imported from elsewhere in Vietnam or from neighbouring countries. Local people could be trained to manage and care for them. These animals could be used to breed with the wild population, should it be so desired, but would also have great educational value.
6. As many as possible human re-locations outside this protected area should be encouraged and financed through national or international means.
7. Enforcement of the protected area status should be given priority. Sufficient, additional, manpower resources should be allocated to the FPD.
8. Local people within the communes could be enrolled as FPD assistants to protect the elephant and other wildlife under long-term forest protection contracts with the FPD and PCs. This would help to establish a feeling of responsibility for the wildlife. These contracts have been successful elsewhere in combating illegal activities. This work (contract) could be made attractive by giving limited access to some minor forest products, (rattan, firewood etc.) and, to some degree, achieve a balanced and equitable relationship within the contract. Additional incentives, such as giving them preference in doing guide work, could also be found.
9. The FPD and PCs can reduce local dependence on the forest by planting economical tree species on public land away from the forest.

Protection for humans

1. Provide prompt compensation for human injury and for crops and property destroyed.
2. Farmers inside the Protected Area should be encouraged to resettle and funds made available to make this attractive. According to recent newspaper reports, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has located 16,800 ha in Quang Nam Province for redevelopment. While this is likely to be bare land and denuded hillside, the Ministry has made it their policy to recover this land and would, presumably, provide some funding.
3. Where agriculture is unavoidable within the elephant range, metal watchtowers should be installed (Appendix II) to facilitate the guarding of crops in certain communities (Economic criteria should not be ignored and only those communes with historically high losses should be selected). These towers should be equipped with a "Very-light" system, sirens, firecrackers, torches and chemical repellents to scare off intruding elephants. A short-wave radio system may not be considered economic due to the long time lapse between elephant incursions, although certainly desirable.
4. The feasibility of creating a government-backed insurance scheme for farmers to compensate for injury and crop losses should be examined by the relevant authority. Since farmers are to be encouraged to leave the Protected Area, those unwilling to relocate could be asked to pay contributions into the scheme based on the potential risk.
5. A system should be organised by the FPD at community level on how to respond to elephant raids. Since it appears that there are certain months of the year when raids are more likely to take place, a state of alertness and concerted community action could pay dividends.
6. New agricultural practises, planting crops disliked by elephants (Pepper, tea, oilseed and Sesame), should be implemented in critical areas and financial assistance be given for this purpose.
7. Natural vegetative barriers/thorny thickets should be constructed to re-direct elephant movements toward the watchtowers.
8. A number of domesticated elephants within the conflict area would reduce the possibility of conflicts escalating, particularly if these were adult females. These animals could help to educate the local community, could be used for certain local work and would be a tourist attraction.
9. Elephants fear tigers. Tiger excrement, naturally from zoo animals or artificially produced, could inhibit elephant movement if spread along the forest/Protected Area edge.
10. There may indeed be truth in the widely held belief that elephants often come looking for salt to the villages. It might make sense to provide salt licks artificially, well before the village land.

Community education

1. Some excellent educational material about avoiding Elephant - Human conflict has been produced by Mark Grindley, Awareness Specialist of FFI, Hanoi. This should be distributed to every household within the affected area (about 5,000 households) as soon as possible.
2. Monthly environmental education programmes should be introduced on a community basis and conducted by the FPD. Issues should include:-
   a.       General information and progress reports on Elephant - Human conflict in Vietnam.

   b.       New farming techniques, illustrating future agricultural demand.

   c.       Measures to avoid water pollution.

   d.       Wildlife protection.

   e.       Birth control.

3. A concerted effort should be made/continued through the television media to promote wildlife & environmental conservation.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank everyone in Quang Nam Province who collaborated on this project.
Thanks are particularly due to my respected friend, Mr Thai Truyen, Vice Director of the Provincial Forest Protection Department (FPD), Quang Nam Province, for his unfailing and generous assistance and intellectual insight, without which my work would not have been possible nor so enjoyable.
In addition, I would like to thank Mr Tu Van Khanh, my FPD companion, motorbike driver, go-between, Internet facilitator and interpreter for his efforts to keep me happy - a hard job in itself.
Thanks are also due to Mr Diep Thanh Phong, Director of FPD Quang Nam Province, Mr Vo Minh Quang, Deputy Head of FPD Tien Phuoc and Mr Nguyen Xuan Phuoc, Head of FPD Tra My, for their hospitality, concern and advice and to Ta Thi Y Van for her statistical data about the FPD.
I am also indebted to the understanding politicians, Mr Vu Xuan Son, Vice Chairman of Tien Phuoc People's Committee and Mr Nguyen Khac Tuong, Head of Administration of Tra My People's Committee for their help in smoothing my path with the community People's Committees and giving me hospitality, encouragement and important provisions.
My colleagues in the field, Mai Thanh Dung, Tran van Nhang, Trinh Luong Phuc, Vo Thang, Le Ba Hung, Nguyen Xuan Truong, Trinh Minh Ky, also contributed relevant, important information and provided both good food and company.
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There are other people in the FPD, particularly in Tam Ky, the stations and in the PC's who I do not know individually by name, but who at all times were friendly and helpful and I am indebted to them all.
The financial and moral support of Senior Experten Service, Bonn (SES), Elke Striewe, Deutsche Entwicklungs Dienst, Hanoi (DED) and Frank Momberg, Fauna and Flora International, Hanoi has also been greatly appreciated.

References

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Lair, R.C., (1997) Gone Astray: The care and management of the Asian elephant in Domesticity. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.
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