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Unfulfilled Promise: Lao Villagers Awaits the Long-Awaited Elephant Breeding Center

Source: Radio Free Asia

A Chinese company that promised to build an elephant conservation and breeding center in remote Xayaburi province still hasn’t completed the project, six years after receiving a 130-hectare land concession from the Lao government.

A severe flood from last year and the COVID-19 pandemic are the main reasons for the delay in opening the center, a Xayaburi province planning and investment official told RFA under the condition of anonymity. But the center could open next month at the pilot stage, the official said.

The $40 million project near the Houng River in northwestern Laos was announced in September 2017 by the Chinese state-owned Sino-Lao Tourism Investment and Development Company.

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Construction began again recently but has slowly moved forward, one villager told RFA. 

“The center was affected by the flood and the company has to do restoration,” he said. “During the flood last year, I saw that the center was severely damaged.”

The site is already home to 10 elephants. Villagers told RFA that tourists sometimes come to the site, but there hasn’t been any training and the center doesn’t put on a show for the visitors.

“Everything stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic period,” the provincial planning and investment official said. “The Chinese company hired Lao workers to take care of the elephants.”

The government doesn’t intend to revoke the 50-year land concession, and Xayaburi provincial officials are still hoping to develop the province as a place known for its elephant breeding and training, the official said. 

There are two other elephant conservation centers in the province. The internationally funded Save Elephant Foundation Laos, which takes care of injured and ill elephants and is currently home to seven elephants. 

The second one is the Elephant Conservation Center, a Lao-French joint venture company that has 30 elephants under its administration. 

Laos has about 800 elephants, and half of those live in the wild, according to a 2020 report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.