Why Are We Leaders in Conservation?

What makes the ECC Unique?

Mahouts (elephant keepers) take elephants to a new place deep in the forest in the Elephant Conservation Center, Sayaboury, Laos, in December 2018. Laos was known as ‘The land of a million elephants’ in the past, today the elephant population in the country stands at around 800 individuals. Half of them is made up of captive elephants, and their number is in decline; the owners are not interested in breeding animals (the cow needs at least four years out of work during her pregnancy and lactation), illegal trafficking to China and other neighboring countries continues. Against this backdrop, the Elephant Conservation Center is the only one organization in Laos who is interested in maintaining the population and breeding of elephants. They have the only elephant hospital and research laboratory in Laos. The Center was created in 2011, and now the team is protecting 29 elephants that had been working in the logging industry or mass tourism, and 530 hectares of forest around Nam Tien Lake in Sayaboury. ‘If we have extra money, we buy an elephant,’ says Anthony, the manager. The primary goal of the Center, besides conservation and breeding, is to reintroduce socially coherent groups of healthy elephants to a natural forest where they can contribute to the increase of the wild population. For this reason, a special socialization programme has been developed by the biologists, where domesticated elephants learn to communicate and survive in the wild under the supervision of specialists. ‘There are not enough elephants in Laos,’ says Chrisantha, the biologist of the center. ‘We need around 5000 of a species to sustain a population, and we are nowhere near that. The efforts we are making now at least give a bit of hope for the future.’ (Photo by Oleksandr Rupeta)

Two Decades Working for Lao Elephants

The ECC team has been involved in numerous projects in Laos for the protection of the Asian elephants since 2001, setting up a registration system for captive elephants, mobile vet clinics, emergency response cards, a protocol and training for immobilisation of elephants in musth, an elephant care manual, national anti-trafficking campaigns, good practice guides for tourism and mobile libraries for local communities among other things.

In 2010, the ECC opened to the public: at the time, it was home to 1 elephant and had a concession of 105ha. By 2017, the Center had 13 elephants on its property. In early 2018, the Government of Laos stopped the illegal sale of 12 elephants to an overseas buyer, deciding instead to send them to the ECC. At the same time, they extended the land concession by 435ha to make it what it is today: A 530ha forest offering shelter to 29 elephants, the largest herd of elephants under human care in the country.

The ECC keeps its leadership in the field of elephant conservation thanks to a multi-sectorial approach to conservation involving local communities in the decision-making process. Our mahouts are consulted for every project we undertake while we maintain excellent relationships with the Provincial Government of Sayaboury Province.

Our two ‘signature’ programmes: reherding and rewilding elephants and monitoring and managing the second largest wild elephant group of Laos in the Nam Pouy National Park make the ECC the leader in conservation of wild & captive elephants in the country.

ECC management’s participation into the Asian Captive Elephants Working Group as well as our network of experts and supporters are taking us to new heights where the ECC becomes a key player for the global conservation of Elephas Maximus.