See, it wasn't just a holiday (more on Hong Sa)
...international press for the Hong Sa Elephant Festival - perhaps this journalist tied in the conservation aspect of Sebastien & Gilles' work.
You thought I was just on holiday didn't you!
Laos losing its iconic elephant
Birth rates are plunging due to lost habitat and gruelling work. Can eco-tourism help?
HONGSA, LAOS -- The elephant population of Laos is shrinking fast, a decline ecologists blame on habitat loss and a trend all too familiar to many humans -- too much work, not enough play.
Ancient Laos was known as Lan Xang, the "Land of One Million Elephants" but today fewer than 2,000 of the animals survive and about half of them are driving the problem by helping log the country's last virgin forests.
Birth rates have plummeted as wild populations have been isolated and domesticated elephants often spend eight hours a day in remote logging camps, leaving them exhausted and far from potential mates.
Environmentalists in the poor Southeast Asian country are trying to reverse the trend before it is too late, pinning their hopes on eco-tourism and revitalizing the elephant's ancient sacred role in Lao culture.
To raise awareness about the plight of the majestic animals, France-based non-profit group ElefantAsia last month organized modern Laos' first elephant festival in the remote northwestern district of Hongsa. The event featured colourful elephant parades, skills demonstrations and religious rituals in which Buddhist monks performed rites for the pachyderms traditionally honoured for their strength, spirit and intelligence.
But as more than 50 richly-decorated elephants walked down a dusty village road in Hongsa, Xayabouri province, the country's traditional centre of elephant raising, there were few infants among them.
"While there are 50 elephants in Hongsa, there is only one birth every two years, which is not sustainable," said ElefantAsia co-founder Sebastien Duffillot, who has worked in Lao elephant conservation for seven years.
"In the past, elephants were employed two or three hours a day to bring in the rice from the harvest, to carry firewood, to help build the houses.
"Now they are employed in logging camps for three, four months, and during that time they work eight hours a day. They are exhausted and don't reproduce well, and the birth rates are plummeting. The population is aging and there will come a time when it's all over."
Across Asia, some 50,000 wild and domesticated elephants remain, but they are under pressure everywhere as demand for farm land is reducing habitats, bringing in poachers and fuelling animal-human conflicts. Modern life has reversed the economic use of the animals, with fewer adult elephants working on farms and in forests and more of the young being sold into tourism, said Richard Lair, a Thailand-based elephant expert.
"Baby elephants from Laos and Burma (Myanmar) are getting sold into Thailand, where they are now as valuable as a very strong healthy adult elephant used to be, because of the tourism business," said Lair.
Meanwhile Asia's mahouts, or elephant handlers, can no longer capture wild elephants for domestic use due to bans on elephant hunting. They are also reluctant to breed them in captivity, a lengthy and expensive process.
In Laos -- a mountainous, poor and sparsely populated country long hailed for its rugged natural beauty -- forest cover has been reduced to 40 per cent by commercial logging, ElefantAsia says, citing government figures.
Timber companies from Laos, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia hold vast areas for cutting.
The communist government has started to address the issue. Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh told a recent forestry meeting that "logging is a big concern in our country," according to the Vientiane Times daily.