The Lao government dispatched four elephants to Japan on Sunday as a special gift to Tokyo Zoo, where it is hoped they will be productive breeding partners.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment reported on Monday that the gift was in recognition of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos and Japan next year.
The elephants and their mahouts travelled with Japanese technicians in a specially designed Japanese aircraft, with an official handover of the animals to take place in Japan. Three of the animals are female and the other a male.
Last week the government organised a baci ceremony for the elephants at Palay waterfall in Vientiane.
An official from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Mr Bounsou Sovanh, accompanied the elephants on the flight to Japan, where he will attend the handover ceremony.
He said Laos and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 on the transfer of four animals to Tokyo Zoo, in the hope they will reproduce and swell the elephant population at the zoo, which has only one elephant at present.
The elephants were selected from Thongmixay and Xayaboury districts in Xayaboury province, and were brought to Vientiane last January for a practice baci ceremony at the waterfall.
Accor ding to the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, in 1975 there were as many as 900 domesticated elephants in Laos. By 2008 that number had dropped to about 700, and the population has now dwindled to less t han 500.
As well as a lack of breeding opportunities and a rapidly ageing population, the elephants are at risk from poachers and disease.
Microchips have now been inserted into 90 percent of Lao elephants so that numbers can be monitored, and measures have been taken to protect them against disease.
Elephants now undergo more health checks and their mahouts have been given training on how to treat them when they fall ill.
Source: Vientiane Times