First steps in to the wild, a summary of the first month of the soft release

At the start of March 2019, the center brought a group of five elephants, 4 adult females, and one 5-year-old male, to the Nam Pouy National Protected Area. This project is the next step in the development of the conservation effort of the Elephant Conservation Center. To find out more about the Reintroduction Program, you can find our previous blog post here:

The lucky pioneers

At the center, we have a large group of elephants that either used to work in the logging industry or in the tourism activities. We aim to form coherent social groups with them in order to release them back into the wild. Now it’s time to choose a group for the first soft release in Laos. The selected social group consists of the following four female adults, and one male calf:

  • Mae Khian
  • Mae Bounmy Nyai
  • Do Khoun Meuang
  • Mae Ma
  • Mae Noy

After going through the different steps of our socialization protocol, this group showed us that they had created a strong bond. We were confident that they would be the right choice for the soft release. All the females displayed caring behaviors for the young male and each other.


The first steps towards a new home

The Elephant Conservation Center feels it is very important to include the local mahout culture in its work. Before bringing the elephants back to the forest we performed a traditional Baci. With this blessing ceremony, we wish them good luck on their return to the forest.

Our concession is linked with the NPA by a 55 km long wildlife corridor. It allows us to walk the elephants all the way to the area we had picked for the release. It took them several days to reach their destination. Each night the mahouts set up a bivouac in the forest.

Discovering Nam Pouy

The ECC works closely with the villagers of Ban Dan who live close to the area of the soft release. After having several meetings with them to press the importance of the project, they gave us their full support.

In order to track their progress as a social group, the mahouts will be taking behavior notes. It is important to see if the social bonds hold up when they are in their environment.

Establishing their range

The National Protected Area is a beautiful primary forest. As a result, even in the middle of the dry season, it is incredible to see the amount of elephant food. They mainly feed on bamboo, wild banana trees, and several species of ginger and to a lesser extent shorter grasses.

With the help of GPS tracking, we can calculate the homing range of the group. After the first month, the elephants kept to a surface of 365 hectares. This is fairly small and is expected to get much larger when they start to feel comfortable.

The group continues

During the first month, we were happy to see that the bonds of the group stayed strong. All five of them slept in the same area during the first weeks. Do Khoun Meuang, the young male, seemed to really enjoy being in the wild. He became very playful under the watching eyes of his foster mom and aunties.

After a couple of days, we noticed that there was a wild male in the area. As a result, the team had to keep their distance a bit while still being able to observe them. How would the group react to this new individual? Would they flee the area or would they feel confident enough to be around him?

We were very happy to see that the group staid in their original range and interacted with the wild male. Equally important for his development is that Do Khoun Meuang can be around an adult role model. This proves again that elephants can be released into the wild if you make the right preparations.

The first month was a great success. We will update you on their big adventure in the following weeks!