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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 23:05 GMT
Nations back elephant action plan
Elephants in Nepal (Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar)
Elephants' habitat is under threat from increasing human activity
All nations with wild populations of Asian elephants have met as a group for the first time to discuss the species' future survival.

The aim of the meeting in Kuala Lumpur was to reach a consensus on the best way to tackle threats facing the continent's largest mammal.

Delegates agreed that transboundary cooperation was necessary to protect the creatures' dwindling habitat.

The wild population of Asian elephants is estimated at 30,000 to 50,000.

The three-day gathering was convened by the Malaysian government, and facilitated by IUCN, the World Conservation Union, in an attempt to agree on the best way to protect the remaining elephant populations.

Knowledge gaps

"Many states face similar problems," said Dr Holly Dublin, chair of the IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

"Therefore, the meeting focused on lessons learned and the sharing of expertise to help improve the Asian elephants' fortunes."

It has taken a long time for these countries to come together like this
Andrew McMullin, IUCN
Although the meeting could be described as historic, it was only the first step on a long road, the IUCN's Andrew McMullin told the BBC News website.

"It is too early at this stage to see any outcomes. It has taken a long time for these 13 countries to come together like this," he said.

"Gaps in knowledge is one of the main things that has been identified, such as the distribution and occurrences of the elephants."

There are only rough estimates of elephant numbers in different countries, ranging from fewer than 100 in Vietnam to more than 20,000 in India. Conservationists admit many of these figures are little more than guesses.

It is hoped that a better understanding of their location and movement will help reduce the growing conflict between humans and the animals.

Balancing act

South and south-east Asia have the highest human population density in the world, and numbers are increasing by between one and three percent each year.

Elephants in Nepal (Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar)
Population: 30,000 - 50,000
Life span: up to 70 years
Status: endangered
Found in 13 countries, from Bangladesh to Vietnam
Habitat: scrub forest; areas combining grass with low trees
Forests and other elephant habitats are being destroyed to make way for new settlements and agricultural land. Only an estimated five percent of their original habitat is left for the creatures to roam.

As a result, an increasing number of elephants are entering newly developed areas and incurring the wrath of angry locals.

The IUCN says the major cause of death for Asian elephants is now being poisoned or shot by farmers.

This is why the 13-nation meeting was a welcome step forward in the effort to improve the balance between the needs of elephants and a growing human population, said Andrew McMullin.

"We are very pleased that the nations have come together on this, and we hope that it is going to be the start of a long and fruitful cooperation between the countries."

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