Luang Prabang Elephant Camp
A little paradise for elephants close to Kuang Si Waterfall

Lao People and Elephants

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked country bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China. It has a total land area of 236,800 km2 with an estimated population of just over 5.5 million people and a population growth rate of 2.3%. A low population density and rugged terrain has contributed to relatively large remaining forested areas and a rich and diverse faunal and floral assemblage. Despite this, the high population growth rate coupled with a natural resource-based economy is leading to increased pressure on remaining natural forests and biodiversity in the country. The natural vegetation types in Lao are mixed deciduous forest and semi-evergreen forest with dry forests in the south. Almost all of the mixed deciduous and semi-evergreen forests have been logged. The northern part of the country mostly consists of cultivation and degraded habitats. There is more forest in the central and southern parts.

Lao PDR has a rich culture and history in which the Asian Elephant plays a prominent role. Lao people regard the Asian elephant as a symbol of the power and potential of the forest. Statues and carvings of elephants adorn temples and houses throughout the country. The Asian elephant also features in spiritual and cultural ceremonies and festivals held throughout Lao PDR. In particular, the ‘Elephant Festival’ is an annual event which draws thousands of national and international visitors. It brings together domestic elephants from five districts in Xayabouly Province. In 2009 there were 60 elephants at the festival. The festival aims to raise awareness of Asian elephants, their important role in the history and culture of Laos, and to promote national tourism that can generate income and help conserve domestic elephants.

For many hundreds of years elephants have helped humans to explore and exploit wild landscapes in Lao PDR. Elephants were extensively used in logging operations to transport cut timber and supplies over terrain that is impassable for vehicles. As new technologies emerge logging elephants are less required for such operations and are increasingly used in the tourism sector. Even today elephants in Lao PDR continue to carry travelers through the forests providing a unique vantage point. Researchers, naturalists, and scientists also continue to use the elephant as a means of exploring and carrying equipment.