May 14, 2009 / 11:30 AM / 9 years ago

Wounded elephant's fate weighs on many Vietnamese

HANOI (Reuters Life!) - A circus elephant has become a poster pachyderm against poaching of his endangered Asian species, capturing the hearts of many Vietnamese after an old wound caused by a trap flared up.

The fate of Kham Bun made headlines in Vietnam recently after the Hanoi circus said the elephant, who was rescued by rangers in 2007, might need to have its front leg amputated because the wound had started to gape again.

Kham Bun was captured, and wounded, in 2006 in the central highland province of Daklak.

The poachers tried to treat his wound then, but it was never properly cured and the elephant, who was given to the circus on orders from the government, was unable to perform.

Vietnam’s population of the Elephas maximus, or Asian elephant, has been declining rapidly in recent decades due to deforestation and illegal hunting.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are about 150 elephants left in the country’s forests, down from between 1,500 to 2,000 nearly two decades ago.

Circus elephant Kham Bun is seen inside its enclosure in Hanoi May 14, 2009.REUTERS/Kham

Newspapers said several people, many of them children, had offered to pay for Kham Bun’s food and medical care after hearing his story. A traditional medicine practitioner even traveled to Hanoi from Buon Don village, where Kham Bun was first caught and treated, to help save his leg.

On Thursday, veterinarians and circus director Vu Ngoan Hop decided amputation was unnecessary and that the elephant’s wound could be treated.

“The experts have concluded that the elephant is very strong,” Hop told Reuters.

“We need to do a small surgery to widen the hole and check if any foreign matter is in there. There’s no way that we would we would amputate its leg.”

Rising prices and strong demand for illegal ivory threaten the survival of Indochina’s remaining elephants, said TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The group said they had surveyed almost 700 shops in Vietnam and found 11 percent selling nearly 2,500 ivory items originating from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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