Lao People and Elephants

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked country bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China. It has a total land area of 236,800 km2 with an estimated population of just over 5.5 million people and a population growth rate of 2.3%. A low population density and rugged terrain has contributed to relatively large remaining forested areas and a rich and diverse faunal and floral assemblage. Despite this, the high population growth rate coupled with a natural resource-based economy is leading to increased pressure on remaining natural forests and biodiversity in the country. The natural vegetation types in Lao are mixed deciduous forest and semi-evergreen forest with dry forests in the south. Almost all of the mixed deciduous and semi-evergreen forests have been logged. The northern part of the country mostly consists of cultivation and degraded habitats. There is more forest in the central and southern parts. Lao PDR has a rich culture and history in which the Asian Elephant plays a prominent role. Lao people regard the Asian elephant as a symbol of the power and potential of the forest. Statues and carvings of elephants adorn temples and houses throughout the country. The Asian elephant also features in spiritual and cultural ceremonies and festivals held throughout Lao PDR. In particular, the ‘Elephant Festival’ is an annual event which draws thousands of national and international visitors. It brings together domestic elephants from five districts in Xayabouly Province. In 2009 there were 60 elephants at the festival. The festival aims to raise awareness of Asian elephants, their important role in the history and culture of Laos, and to promote national tourism that can generate income and help conserve domestic elephants. For many hundreds of years elephants have helped humans to explore and exploit wild landscapes in Lao PDR. Elephants were extensively used in logging operations to transport cut timber and supplies over terrain that is impassable for vehicles. As new technologies emerge logging elephants are less required for such operations and are increasingly used in the tourism sector. Even today elephants in Lao PDR continue to carry travelers through the forests providing a unique vantage point. Researchers, naturalists, and scientists also continue to use the elephant as a means of exploring and carrying equipment.

Asian Elephants

The elephant is Earth's largest land animal, although the Asian elephant is slightly smaller than its African cousin. Asian elephants can be identified by their smaller, rounded ears. (An African elephant's ears resemble the continent of Africa.) Elephant ears radiate heat to help keep these large animals cool, but sometimes that isn't enough. Elephants are fond of water and enjoy showering by sucking water into their trunks and spraying it all over themselves. An elephant's trunk is actually a long nose with many functions. It is used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things—especially a potential meal. The trunk alone contains about 100,000 different muscles. Asian elephants have a fingerlike feature on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items. (African elephants have two.) Elephants use their tusks to dig for roots and water, strip bark from trees, and even fight each other. Unfortunately their ivory has gotten them into a lot of trouble. Because ivory is so valuable to some humans, many elephants have been killed for their tusks. This trade is illegal today, but it has not been completely eliminated. Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark, and they eat a lot of these things. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of food in a single day. These hungry animals do not sleep much, and they roam over great distances while foraging for the large quantities of food they require to sustain their massive bodies. Female elephants (cows) live in family herds with their young, but adult males (bulls) tend to roam on their own. Having a baby elephant is a serious commitment. Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal—almost 22 months. Cows usually give birth to one calf every two to four years. At birth, elephants already weigh some 200 pounds (91 kilograms) and stand about three feet (1 meter) tall. Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. The powerful beasts have been employed to move heavy objects, such as felled trees, to carry humans on their backs, and even to wage war.

Asian Elephant Facts

Type: Mammal Diet: Herbivore Average life span in the wild: Up to 60 years Size: Height at the shoulder, 6.6 to 9.8 ft (2 to 3 m) Weight: 2.25 to 5.5 tons (2,041 to 4,990 kg) Group name: Herd Protection status: Endangered