February 18, 2017 / 12:34 PM / 7 months ago

Elephants on parade in Laos as numbers dwindle

An elephant takes part in the rehearsal before the opening of the elephant festival, which organisers say aims to raise awareness about elephants, in Sayaboury province, Laos February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Phoonsab Thevongsa

SAYABOURY, Laos (Reuters) - Dozens of elephants, adorned in bright colors and with garlands of flowers, paraded through a Laotian town on Saturday in a celebration of a species that has become increasingly scarce in the Southeast Asian country.

Known historically as the “Land of a Million Elephants”, Laos now has only a few hundred left in the wild and not many more than that in captivity, most of which are used in logging.

Nearly 70 elephants joined the main procession at the 11th annual elephant festival in Sayaboury Province some 200 km (120 miles) northwest of the capital Vientiane.

“The festival is organized to draw the public’s attention to the condition of the endangered elephant as well as promoting traditional culture and livelihoods,” said Yanyong Sipaseuth, the deputy governor of the province.

Wild elephant numbers have dwindled because of the destruction of their forest habitat, although poaching for ivory has also played a part, conservationists say.

A ban on capturing elephants from the wild so they can be domesticated has put greater strain on the existing captive population, meaning elephants are often worked so hard that they fall sick and no longer reproduce.

Reporting by Phoonsab Thevongsa; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and John Stonestreet

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