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In our 20th Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Michael Falshaw gave us an update of his ongoing project to release captive elephants into the Nam Pouy National Protected Area in Laos.

Michael Falshaw and his team enter the forest four times a week to record the GPS location of a group of four elephants, on top of conducting health check once monthly. But those elephants in the forest are not wild. Not yet, at least.

This was a project that Falshaw and the Elephant Conservation Center conducted in an attempt to release captive elephants in the forest.

In just over the last 30 years, Laos has lost more 70% of its captive elephants and even 80-90% of its wild elephants. This was the combined result of a multitude of factors, including deforestation, habitat fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching, live trade, as well as the lack of incentive to breed the work elephants.

To conserve the remaining 300-400 wild elephants, the Elephant Conservation Center has been providing veterinary care, captive breeding program, behavioral research and protected area management.

The team found a group of females bonding closely with a juvenile male. Screenshot from Falshaw’s lecture.

And while the team was encouraging the captive elephants to socialize with one another, something fascinating was happening to one of the groups.

“During this socialization time, we noticed a pretty strong bond forming between four female elephants and one juvenile male,” discovered Falshaw, “they were forming bonds with each other from what seems like a mutual desire to look after the young male.”

This was a golden opportunity.

The elephants were released into the Nam Pouy National Protected Area. Screenshot from Falshaw’s lecture

The team then started some day release trials, where they took the elephants outside of the captivity and let them roam freely around 1920km² of natural and resourceful habitat.

After releasing the elephants for a couple of weeks, they successfully convinced the government to let them release the elephants on a 3-month trial on the condition that the elephants do not destroy plantations or cause other human-elephant conflicts.

Much to their delight, the elephants never for once left the released site.

Better yet, the team had received huge support from the government and the mahouts, while the elephants remained healthy, woundless and even interactive with wild elephants.

The team currently has the government’s permission to run the project until Dec 2021.

You can watch the full lecture in full now.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily represent Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.