Since June 2009, eight elephants have been found dead in the Vinh Cuu Natural Reserve of the southern province of Dong Nai , according to recent statistics.

Pham Trong Anh, from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, said that current Vietnamese elephant numbers ranged from only 30 to 50.

"More than 20 years ago, Vietnam had over 1,000 wild elephants, but the numbers have dropped to less than 100," Vietnam Zoology Association president Dang Huy Huynh said, adding that most of the remaining herds were only to be found in the Central Highlands and southeast areas.

Elephants, mostly living in fragmented forests and covering large areas, have had their habitats narrowed by locals burning down forests in order to clear land for farming.

"Due to their loss of habitat, many elephants end up destroying paddy fields in their search for safety. Moreover, male and female elephants find it difficult to meet, severely limiting reproduction," Huynh said.

Hunting elephants for their tusks has also contributed to their decreasing numbers.

"The death of lots of elephants in recent times is a reminder that humans are solely responsible for the critically endangered status of elephants. At the current rate of killing, elephants will become extinct in Vietnam over the next decade," Scott Roberton, country representative of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said.

Although there might be truth in what Roberton says, his predictions are hard to verify, according to Anh.

At a recent conference on elephants, held at the Cat Tien National Park this year, the application of electronic fences was discussed. However, Anh said that such an application would prove impossible due to a lack of funds.

"We have to consider the reality that national parks and conservation areas in Vietnam are all small to provide sufficient habitats to elephants. There are however, areas located right next to each other which could be utilised for such purposes. Conservation areas such as Bac Huong Hoa, in the central province of Quang Tri , situated close to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh province. If merged, it could supply ample space for elephant recuperation," Anh explained.

According to Roberton , Vietnam currently lacks effective laws punishing wildlife crimes.

" Vietnam needs to make it very clear that it will not abide crimes committed against wildlife. We don't need any more speeches or action plans or reviews; the time to act is now, before it is too late," he said. /.