Elephant Calf Born in Laos Signifies Progress in Conservation Efforts

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Elephant Calf Born in Laos Signifies Progress in Conservation Efforts
The elephant calf along with the mother in it's natural habitat. (Photo: ECC)

After 21 months of gestation, a calf elephant was born into the wild, under the watchful eye of the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) in Laos, signifying forward strides in the field of elephant conservation and breeding in the country.

Formerly known as the land of a thousand elephants, Laos now only has a mere 800 Asian elephants roaming in the wild, compared to tens of thousands at the beginning of the 1900s. Asian Elephants are now deemed a highly endangered species and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. 

But the ECC is moving forward in its goal to grow the Asian elephant population by breeding elephants in captivity, under the vigilance of experienced professionals, and releasing them back into the wild.

The ECC shared insights with the Laotian Times through an email interview about the birth of the calf and the challenges that came with it.

Two mahouts (elephant caretakers) had been stationed out in the wild near the designated area of the  mother elephant after 19 months of pregnancy, to “closely ensure the well-being of the mother during the last months of gestation,” says Sebastien Duffillot, founder of the ECC. 

During these final months of gestation, the veterinary team performed weekly checks on the mother to monitor her weight and blood parameters among others to closely monitor her health.

The calf was born on the 21st month of gestation, on 2 August.

Not long after the calf was born, signs were looking bad as the calf had problems with his back leg, making it difficult for the calf to stand up. 

“A few hours later, he started to look very weak. The team immediately started to perform emergency care on the baby. The health of the calf was critical for the first three days of his life,” said Sebastien says.

Miraculously however, the calf decided to fight back and stood up on the third day after being born.

Further pushing the statistics of Asian elephants in Laos, the ECC has not only facilitated the birth of one, but three calves over the past three years.

This is proof of the ECC’s effectiveness in blending traditional mahout knowledge and modern science – especially in the field of endocrinology (the science to study hormones, including reproductive hormone Progesterone). And while captive breeding is difficult and takes many years to achieve, the ECC has developed protocols that allow for accurate pairing of male and female elephants as well as precise targeting of positive reproduction conditions, thus maximizing the chances of birth.

“Each birth is the most beautiful gratification for the work undertaken by the 60 people working and living at the ECC,” Sebastien says.

Another significant milestone in elephant conservation occurred when the ECC released four elephants into the Nam Pouy National Protected Area.

Sebastian explained that each elephant had been fitted with a GPS collar and is now roaming free.

“This rewilding program is another testimony of the team’s commitment and dedication to providing Lao elephants with a lasting future in the wild,” he says

To support the ECC, the center encourages people to book a stay at the Elephant Conservation Center Lodge, and immerse themselves the experience of living with elephants in their natural habitat. The ECC has also launched a new crowdfunding campaign for the newly born elephant calf, while direct donations can be made via the official ECC website.