Like an ancient story of a lost kingdom, hidden away and and landlocked between South East Asias largest roaring economies China, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, lies a small oasis, The Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos - the size of Kansas with 3 times as many residents.
The Land Of a Million Elephants
Throughout Laos long, at at times dark, history it was in 1354 named Lan Xang – “The Land of a Million Elephants”- the reason for that was that the capital at that time was the Luang Prabang in the northern mountains of Laos. This part of the country had lush jungle and huge grazing fields which sustained massive herds of wild elephants- and these large strong animals were cough, trained and used largely as the principal engines of war and a main means of transportation for the Laos Royal Family back in ancient times. Yes, Laos was once home to many elephants which were also believed to be the sacred and bring prosperity to the country.
The Land of a Million Bombs
Laos holds an unimaginable natural beauty that takes your breath away, but within this beauty you can almost sense that the country has not always been as peaceful as it looks. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the nine-year period.
Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased. The wounds of war are not only felt in Laos. When the Americans withdrew from Laos in 1973, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country, and many of them ultimately resettled in the United States.
Going into a brighter future
In more modern days, the wars and bombs have scared the elephants away, the loss of natural habitat the expansion of settlements, agriculture and industrial infrastructure, the trade of the ivory and the forests being cut down are some of the challenges elephants in Laos are facing and remaining populations in Laos is dwindling fast. Now, Laos only have about 700 elephants left in the wild – and only about 400 domesticated elephants. With an increase in demand for elephants by the logging industry, the animals become overworked and exhausted, and as a result cannot reproduce. So, there is therefore an urgent need to safeguard the remaining elephants.
At Lao Elephant Initiative we work focused to help these few remaining elephants into a much brighter future. Our two projects aim to make life better for the captive elephants – and to help stabilize the remaining small population of wild elephants in Laos. Read more about out two projects here: insert links. If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with a friend!