Vietnamese elephant risks extinction for 'lucky tuft'
Poachers tear the hairs or cut the tail of the animals to resell them. Trade exploits the beliefs of the M'nong and Ede tribes, but these peoples venerate the pachyderms. Only 80 specimens in captivity and about 100 in nature. The trade in elephant parts is widespread in much of the region.
Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Known as "the kingdom of elephants" for the large herds that once wandered through its forests, the central-southern province of ắk Lắk is likely to see even the last specimens of pachyderm disappear. Deforestation and poaching has spiralled and in recent years a new ferocious threat is questioning their continued existence: the trade in the tuft of hair that adorns their tail, considered by some to be a lucky charm.
To satisfy the demand caused by the new gruesome trend, poachers tear or cut elephant hairs. In doing so, they leave the animals without the crucial appendix, used to crush flies and keep their bottom clean. Dionne Slagter, of Animals Asia, says: "The tail is essential for hygiene. By removing the tuft or by cutting off the entire final part, the animal is condemned to a handicap. "
In Vietnam there are only 80 captive elephants left and an estimated 100 in the wild, in dramatic decline from 2,000 in 1990. Slagter suspects that most of the tails are smuggled to neighboring countries or distant Africa. The trade in elephant parts is widespread in much of the region.
In neighboring Myanmar, elephants are killed to meet the growing demand in China for their skin, which is believed to cure eczema or acne. The pachyderms are also endangered in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, where they have been revered for centuries. Also in Vietnam, ethnic minorities M'nong and Ede, originating from the province of ắk Lắk, maintain a deep spiritual reverence towards them.
According to the legend, finding by chance an elephant skin in the forest is considered a good omen. For some years now, local tradition has unfortunately been exploited by traders. However, cutting the tails or tearing the tuft has never been the custom of the tribals. Linh Nga Nie Kdam, researcher of the Ede culture, says: "They love and consider the elephants part of their family, so they would never do anything to hurt them".