In April and May 2023, Association Anoulak hired a team of two freelance Lao filmmaker and photographer: Ms Chansamai Phanouvong (camera) and Ms Meesouk Phetsompou (camera assistant and photography), to follow our team during the surveys and produce a short film presenting our elephant survey project. The final film will be presented to and shared with all project’s partners and stakeholders at the completion of the project, later this year.
Since November 2022, Association Anoulak launched an elephant survey in Nakai District, Khammouan province. For this elephant survey, we apply non-invasive fecal DNA-based capture–recapture population survey methods which consist of collecting elephant dung samples from which individual elephant DNA is later extracted in laboratory. Prior to starting the surveys, we selected eight survey sites where elephants are known to regularly visit. Our technical field surveyor Ms. Keomany Leuangthy (including two government partner representatives from the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and the Nakai District Agriculture and Forestry Office), under the supervision of project leader, Dr. Camille Coudrat, visited the eight sites each month from November 2022 to May 2023. The elephant dung samples collected over the past 7 months will then be processed in a laboratory in Laos to extract elephant DNA, at the individual level. The DNA extract will then be further processed and analyzed.
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.