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Tail Hair Jewelry Is a New Trend That's Hurting Vietnam's Elephants

Add demand for elephant tail hair jewelry, beside habitat loss and ivory poaching, to the list of what will likely lead to the extinction of this incredible creature. 

In Dak Lak, the mountainous highland province where Vietnam's remaining wild elephants roam, an ugly trend is emerging: collecting tail hairs to embed in rings or make bracelets out of. While collecting and selling naturally shed elephant hairs is a legal activity with historic roots in numerous cultures, these hairs are more likely to be illegally harvested from living elephants or taken from poached corpses.

Elephants obviously have hair for a reason, and removing it puts stress on them. "The tail is very much a part of body hygiene, so by plucking the hairs out ... or cutting the entire lower tail off, you're putting a handicap on your elephant," said Dionne Slagter, Animal Welfare Manager at Animals Asia.

Finding an elephant hair in Vietnam is considered good luck while people in Africa, India and elsewhere in Asia believe wearing it has the power to protect a wearer from illness. Selling it or removing it directly from the pachyderms, however, is a new development. Vietnamese living amongst the animals "loved and considered elephants part of their family so they wouldn't do anything to hurt them," said Linh Nga Nie Kdam, a researcher on Ede culture.

Vietnam is home to only 100 or so wild elephants, down from 2,000 in 1990. Experts, therefore, believe that much of the hair sold originates elsewhere in Asia or as far as Africa. There have been several high-profile busts of elephant hair jewelry outside of Vietnam, including one in Senegal where goods worth US$65,000 were seized

[Photos by Thanh Nguyen via AFP]

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