In November 2022, Association Anoulak began to survey the population of Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) in Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and surrounding areas. We applied non-invasive fecal DNA-based population survey methods which consist of collecting elephant dung samples from which individual elephant DNA is later extracted in laboratory.
The field data collection was conducted from November 2022 to May 2023 in the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park region. Each of the eight pre-selected Survey Zones was therefore surveyed every month over the 7-month period. Overall, a total of 652 samples of elephant dung were collected from November 2022 to May 2023.
In June 2023, the dung samples were processed for DNA extraction at the laboratory of the Faculty of Pharmacology, University of Health Science of Laos, in collaboration and technical support from researcher Dr. Sabrina Locatelli from the French Research Institute in Laos.
The DNA extractions will then be sent to a technical partner in a bioinformatic research lab in France for data analysis and interpretation. Ultimately, the aims of this study are to provide an estimation of the current elephant population size on the Nakai Plateau and surrounding areas, as well as its genetic diversity, social structure and dynamic. This will inform future conservation action plans for Elephants in the region.
One of the largest elephant populations of Laos is in Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and surrounding areas. In 2008, a hydroelectric dam led to the flooding of a significant part of the elephant population’s habitat. Prior to the impoundment, the population was estimated at 132 elephants, likely the largest and genetically most diverse in Laos at the time. But it was suggested that it would be affected and disperse due to the habitat loss. Since the impoundment, elephants have moved closer to villages and human-elephant conflicts have increased across a wide region. The size of the elephant population has not been systematically monitored. Association Anoulak therefore led this study to provide information for elephant conservation planning in the area, with implications for the national and global long-term conservation of the species.