Tracking wild elephants in the Central Highlands of Vietnam
Let’s follow wild elephants, the symbol of the Highlands of Vietnam, at Yok Don national park with reporters of Travellive.
See more Vietnam travel guide at here.
Photos: Le Van Thao, Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Expanding on two provinces, Dak Lak and Dak Nong and about 40km from Buon Ma Thuot city in the Northwest, Yok Don National Park is the largest parks in Vietnam and Asia with a cover area of 1155.45km2. Forests are natural, mostly khop (a kind of plants) forests. Yok Don is also the only national park in Vietnam that preserves this kind of forest.
In recent years, with the development of the economy, the increase of population has caused the forest strongly damaged. Many rare plants and animals are more and more disappeared, including wild elephants, which are considered as a powerful symbol of the Highlands. Our trip is to research the real situation of this animal of this landscape.
It is the rainy season here and Yok Don is growing its floristic composition. We can see images of wild plants and bamboo shoots by streams, which are favorite food of elephants. Ripen farm produces on fields have attracted herds of elephants from the forests bordering Cambodia flocking to create an impressive view.
We started from a shed, where wild elephants had damaged the corn field at the previous night.
Our guides were experienced elephant keepers, who were used to every corner of this place.
We followed tracks of wild elephants but couldnot catch them. The sun set so quickly that we cannot make a tent. Therefore, we decided to sleep on the ground and elephant keepers made a campfire to drive away wild animals and insects.
In the morning, we continued our journey. Maybe, now, the wild elephants went far away from us.
The plan of going through the forest to wait for the wild elephants in front brought the team a memorable trip. We passed by bushes, streams and mountains.
We ran out of water. And the first specialty of the forest was the flavor of water in tree branches. It was really an interesting experience.
However, water in tree branches was not available everywhere to support for nearly ten people. Luckily, there were many streams in the forest. Elephant keeper Y Nghia said to us: “we can drink the water, which elephants can drink”. From this place, we changed to use water from streams.
We chose to wait for wild elephants in corn fields, which are going to be harvested. Local people lit fire the whole night to drive away wild elephants.
We followed tracks of wild elephants in the day and waited for them at night. On the fourth day, their tracks revealed that they were separated into small groups. Therefore, we lost our chance to look at the whole group of wild elephants. Then, we went back to Don village.
On the fifth day, we got a bad news. There were two elephants killed. And the result of our journey was: two elephants killed for tusks at about 6km from the location that we saw the separate tracks.
After returning to Hanoi, we were informed that wild elephants continued to damage fields near Don village. Then, we continued to travel to Dak Lak by the last flight of Air Mekong on that day.
This time, we followed wild elephants by motorbike in order to catch them.
Y Bich found the area of wild elephants. Tamed elephants took a short-cut to that place.
We carefully followed new tracks of wild elephants that created a path across the forest.
Until 16:00, did we hear the sound of breaking tree branches. Y Bich used a lighter to define the wind direction. Then, we traveled to the back side of the hill to see the elephants.
In shaky bushes, wild elephants were moving while breaking tree branches. This herd included 6 mother wild elephants and about four cubs.
It was difficult for elephant keepers to cause tamed elephants move because these elephants were afraid of wild ones.
A mother elephant went out of the bush and looked at us strangely. Then, she roared and the whole herd ran quickly into bushes. In some moments, wild elephants disappeared.
When we are very petrified, the elephant keeper said that we could also see other elephants. After that, we moved to an airy place and waited for other wild elephants. Now we could see backs of wild elephants faraway. Tamed elephants seemed to be more daring and moved more closely to the wild ones.
Suddenly, a wild elephant strolled closely about 20m to us, feeding and waving her tail.
Wild elephants moved near us. A small one moved so closely, about 5m to our tamed one. Then, she found out the difference and turned her head back.
The herd gathered and the mother elephant roared loudly to protect her cubs. Elephant keepers stood in front of tamed elephants and pointed their lances to the wild elephants. The confrontation made the main cameraman spitted out to the grown.
See more Vietnam travel guide at here.