Vietnam English Information News

The last domesticated elephant in northern central highlands

A 60-year-old elephant is living alone in the central highlands province of Gia Lai while its owner expressed wishes to find it a mate.

Ksor Aluh and his elephant Ya Tao

Ya Tao now lives alone deep in the forest at Chu Mo Commune in Ia Pa District. As the forest continues to disappear, it takes almost two hours for its owner, Ksor Aluh, to walk to its place.

“I have to visit her every day to bring leaves and trees or take her to find food in the forest,” Aluh said. “Food has become increasingly scare due to deforestation.”

According to Aluh, the two provinces of Gia Lai and Kon Tum in the northern central highlands used to be well-known for taming a large number of wild elephants. But the mighty animals have largely died due to war bombs, old age, and deforestation.

“Now Ya Tao is our only elephant left, and also the last in this northern central highlands region,” he said. “My father-in-law bought her in 1990 to mate with his male elephant, Bak Xom. But Bak Xom and some other domesticated elephants in the area suddenly died from diseases in 1995, leaving her alone.”

Aluh said that after his father-in-law died, some people paid VND1.5 billion (USD65,217) to buy Ya Tao, but his family want to keep her because she is considered a sacred animal and pride of the family and the whole village.

Aluh was assigned an important responsibility to take care of Ya Tao because he is the closest family member to her after his father-in-law.

“I take this responsibility with pride,” Aluh said. “I used to follow my father-in-law to graze the elephants so I know Ya Tao very well. She is very fierce especially with women and children.”

Aluh said that Ya Tao still eats well but her health has declined due to old age so they don’t take her to work anymore.

“Now it’s time for her to rest,” he said. “She has helped us do a lot of hard work including taking people across rivers, transporting goods and taking wood from the forest. Construction of most of the stilt-houses, as well as large communal houses in our village, was made possible due to the help of Ya Tao and many other elephants.”

The elephant tamer said that they were treating Ya Tao very well to show their love and gratitude to her. However what they wished most of all was to be able to find her a mate, and then they would have a baby elephant.

“Although we are trying to give her enough food, we still see the loneliness in her eyes,” Aluh said.

The number of elephants in Vietnam has decreased sharply in recent years due to deforestation and poaching; the total population fell from roughly 1,000 in the mid-1980s to about 120 in 2014, according to an official report.