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Laos trumpets return of Elephant Festival

Radio Free Asia 

Laos’ annual Elephant Festival returned in February 2023 after a three-year hiatus, with about 75 of the majestic animals taking part in a grand procession in an event that stressed the cultural ties between the mammals and communities and highlighted the elephants’ endangered status.

The three-day festival in Xayaburi province, in northwestern Laos near the Thai border, focused on Asian elephant habitat and preservation and also featured concerts, performances and other activities, including elephant rides.

For Laotians, elephants are a symbol of power, especially in rural areas, where residents use them for transportation, tourism, and as pack animals in logging, clearing land and farming. Lan Xang, the Laotian kingdom that thrived from the 14th century to the 18th century, translates as “land of one million elephants.”   

There are 500 to 1,000 wild Asian elephants in Laos, one-third of the population 20 years ago, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The mammals, which live 60 years on average, can grow up to 4 meters tall and weigh more than 5,000 kilograms. They roam up to 80 kilometers a day foraging for the 150 kilograms of vegetation they need to survive.

The festival, which was suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeks to preserve and raise awareness about the animals, especially given a drastic decrease in the elephant population in the past three years caused by habitat loss and hunting. Poachers kill the elephants for their ivory tusks and other parts to sell for use primarily in traditional medicine.

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