In November 2022, we began our new project to survey the population of Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) in Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and surrounding areas.
One of the largest elephant populations of Laos is in Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and surrounding areas. In 2008, the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric dam resulted in the flooding of a large part of the resident 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 the elephant population 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, spanning several provinces. The size of the elephant population has not been systematically monitored. Association Anoulak therefore initiated and is leading the study of the current status, genetic diversity and movement patterns of the elephant population, which has implications for the national and global conservation of the species.
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.
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 start our survey, we identified key survey zones that are known to be regularly visited by elephants. These survey zones will be surveyed each month for the next 6 months, in ‘Survey Replicates’ to cover the dry season 2022-2023. In our first survey Replicate we collected 125 samples across 8 key sampling zones (Figure 1).
As part of this project, Association Anoulak recruited a new technical field and laboratory officer, Miss Keo, who will be dedicated to the project. We are very pleased to welcome her into our team!
During our survey, we were very lucky to observe wild elephants!
This project was developed and is funded by Association Anoulak via grants received from the International Conservation Foundation of Canada, Wilhelma Foundation and the Conservation, Food & Health Foundation. The project is implemented and coordinated locally in collaboration with the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park.
Association Anoulak is, in addition, collaborating with technical advisors, including with Dr. Gilles Maurer (researcher Beauval Nature / Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, CNRS, Montpellier) and with Dr. Sabrina Locatelli (French Research Institute for Development-Lao Program).