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Đắk Lắk Receives $2.2m in Financial Support to End Elephant Rides by 2026

To be distributed between now and the end of 2026, the VND55 billion (US$2.2 million) provided by the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) will be used to help tourism centers in Đắk Lắk Province become more elephant-friendly and cease all elephant-riding activities.

The money will support the operation of centers that provide care for elephants and offset lost profits among elephant owners and mahouts. Bathing and feeding the animals have been proposed as more ethical means of elephant tourism that don't cause the physical and emotional stress that rides do.

The concrete plans with financial support come after a 2020 commitment to end elephant rides made by province officials at a tourism conference. Previously, in 2018, all rides in Yok Đôn, Đắk Lắk's largest national park, were ordered to stop by 2023. Because the animals are accustomed to humans, they cannot be safely released into the wild, so the best option is to let them roam freely in the park and allow tourists to view them from a safe distance. 

In addition to more humane treatment of the animals, the province is making efforts to curb poaching and the ivory trade. Last month, Đắk Lắk authorities held a conference titled "Tourism companies join hands to promote the image of Đắk Lắk – an elephant-friendly destination."

The event sought to educate participants on ivory regulations and the laws regarding wildlife items, based on the observation that members of the tourism sector, in addition to tourists, do not have sufficient knowledge of the sanctions on the trade and use of wild animals, including ivory and other items obtained from elephants. Their tail hair, for example, has emerged in recent years as a popular commodity prone to illegal interaction with wild elephants. 

The short film Tháo Bành Cho Voi (Bring Down The Howdahs) via indie collective Phim của Quạ.

In 2017, the US government pledged US$24 million to help conserve elephants in Quảng Nam Province as more international organizations focus on protecting dwindling elephant populations around the world. 

Many fear that all the efforts are too little, too late. Between 2009 and 2016, Đắk Lắk alone lost at least 23 wild elephants, approximately 25% of the total population. Nghệ An Province, meanwhile, is down to an estimated 14–16 wild individuals. Habitat loss is causing the animals to enter residential areas, exacerbating tensions between humans and the animals. As recently as the 1990s, Vietnam was home to 1,500-2,000 wild elephants but that number has plummeted to an estimated 124-148, primarily in the Central Highlands. Their loss represents not only a blow to the globe's biodiversity but also Vietnam's long and important relationship with voi, from the Trưng sisters to more recent agricultural use. 

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