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'A Million Elephants' No More: Conservationists In Laos Rush To Save An Icon

"Centuries ago, the kingdom that made up much of modern-day Laos was called Lan Xang. In English: 'Land of a Million Elephants.'"

"Yet while the Asiatic elephant may have endured as a cultural icon for the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the numbers tell a story of a species in crisis."

"The Laos government and conservation groups estimate there are only about 800 elephants left in the country — 400 wild elephants, 400 in captivity."

"'Both populations are not sustainable and are actually declining,' says Anabel López Pérez, a biologist from Spain with the Elephant Conservation Center. 'And the problems that they face, both populations, are completely different.'"

"The root of the decline in wild elephant numbers is deforestation, says. Laos, which is notorious for over-deforestation thanks to demand for timber in neighboring China and Vietnam, only has about 40 percent of forest coverage today — down from 70 percent recorded in the 1950s. As the forests dwindle, that leads to habitat fragmentation and the elephants are unable to follow normal migration patterns, she says. This leads to human-elephant conflict."

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