Sadly, Vietnam has done an atrocious job of protecting its wild elephants. There are perhaps 60 left in the entire country, and many conservationists believe that the population will meet the same fate as a subspecies of the Javan black rhino, which officially went extinct in Vietnam in 2011.
There were an estimated 550 wild elephants in Vietnam in the 1980s.
The march toward extinction is happening at an astounding rate, and every loss of an individual is agonizing. Just last week, Vietnamese media reported that two wild baby elephants were found dead in two separate provinces. One was found dead in a pond. The other elephant was found dead in a forest, missing a large swatch of skin, part of his tail and his feet. You can see the graphic and very disturbing image here.
It's not uncommon for adult elephants to be targeted for their ivory and tail parts, explains Douglas Hendrie, technical adviser for Vietnam's NGO Education for Nature (ENV) and head of its Wildlife Crime and Investigations team. However, Hendrie told The Dodo this is the first time he has heard of a baby elephant getting his feet butchered. His organization, he says, is investigating the baby elephant's death.
Besides a small number of wild elephants in Vietnam, there are also an estimated 40 captive elephants, who are mostly used in tourism and treated abysmally. Just this month, an elephant reportedly dropped dead from being overworked while giving rides to tourists. Another captive, tourism-based elephant died in January - also from a cocktail of exhaustion and starvation.
Hendrie says saving Vietnam's wild elephants rests on the shoulders of the nation's Forest Protection Department. "But, given the decline of many species native to parks and protected areas in Vietnam, the problems that elephants face are not endemic to elephants alone," he says. "Rhinos are gone. Tigers down to a few animals, at best."
Human encroachment, habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict and poaching for ivory and skin are widely considered the culprits for the elephants' demise in Vietnam. And even if monumental efforts are made to protect the few remaining animals, the future looks grim.
"The wild population is listed by IUCN as critically endangered, notes Philippa. "[It] is likely too small and fragmented to be sustainable."