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The U.S. government has promised $24 million to the central province of Quang Nam to support elephant conservation efforts after multiple sightings of what is thought to be the last remaining herd left in the wild.
The money will be directed through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ambassador Ted Osius said during a visit to the rural province on Thursday to attend the agriculture ministry’s opening of an elephant reserve.
The reserve covers nearly 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) in Nong Son District, where elephants and their tracks have been spotted many times in recent years.
Since 2011, locals have been reporting sightings of elephants, some alive and others killed by poachers, as well as their footprints.
In 2015, when Quang Nam was zoned off to become part of an urgent elephant conservation program, a team of experts arrived and reported a herd of seven elephants with male, female and juvenile members.
A similar herd was spotted near houses on the edge of the forest in January and July this year.
“On one occasion, the elephants were just 50 meters from us. Their trumpeting was as loud as truck horns,” a local man said. Osius said the U.S. wants to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the area by participating in the project.
The best way to preserve biodiversity in the area is to help around 20,000 locals find a better way of living, he said.
But Le Ngoc Trung, chairman of the district, said he has not figured out how to do that yet.
Trung also said that while media coverage helps to raise awareness about the need to protect the elephants, it also alerts poachers to the animals’ location.
Wild elephants are at threat across Asia, and the giant mammals are considered critically endangered in Vietnam.
According to figures from conservation organizations, the country’s wild elephant population has shrunk by 95 percent since 1975 to less than 100. At least 23 wild elephants have died over the past seven years, and nearly 75 percent of them were less than a year old.
Experts said that plantations near their natural habitats are a major threat to their survival, besides ivory poaching.
Two months ago, the southern province of Dong Nai started setting up an electric fence that will run for 50 kilometers (31 miles) and act as a barrier between local farms and residential areas and the elephants’ habitat.