The Ministry of Planning and Investment has approved a 74 billion VND (3.44 million USD) budget for a project on urgent protection of wild elephants in the southern province of Dong Nai, according to the provincial Forest Protection Department.

The project, expected to kick off in December this year, will be implemented in the natural forests of Vinh Cuu, Tan Phu and Dinh Quan districts.

The project will focus on assessing the elephant population, distribution and movements, while planning the expansion of their habitat to provide sustainable natural living conditions.

It will also seek ways to avoid conflict between people and elephants and increase communication efforts to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of protecting wild elephants.

Research conducted by Vietnamese and Indian experts in December 2001 showed that the total wild elephant population in Dong Nai is 15-20 individuals. Meanwhile, the province’s Forest Protection Department estimated the number at 17 in 2009 and ten individuals in 2013.

Increased habitat loss is posing a severe threat to elephants. Local foresters in Dong Nai said the natural habitat for wild Asian elephants decreased from 50,000ha in the 1990s to 14,000 ha in 2005, mostly in Cat Tien National Park .

Between 2006 and 2009, elephants expanded their territory to 34,000ha, encroaching on residential areas in Ma Da and Phu Ly communes in Vinh Cuu district. Last year and early this year, the elephants approached the forests near Thanh Son commune in Dinh Quan district and parts of the La Nga forestry company plantation.

According to Tran Van Mui, Director of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, elephants’ habitats are being reduced and degraded, leading to a lack of food and more conflicts between the animals and residents. Since 2009, nine elephants and one person were killed during conflicts.-VNA