After a 3-year hiatus, the Lao Elephant Festival is held in February

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After a three-year suspension due to the COVID pandemic, Laos will hold its annual Elephant Festival in February, with around 75 of the majestic animals taking part in a grand procession in an event designed to highlight the cultural ties between the mammals and communities and to mark their endangered condition.

Held from February 18 to 20 in Xayabury province, in northwestern Laos near the Thai border, the festival will focus on the habitat and conservation of Asian elephants throughout the day and feature concerts, performances and other entertainment for visitors said a tourism official. Visitors can ride elephants through a main street.

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For Laotians, elephants are a symbol of power, especially in rural areas, where residents use them for transportation, tourism, and as beasts of burden in logging, land clearing, and agriculture.

The festival aims to preserve and raise awareness about the animals, especially given the drastic decline of the elephant population over the past three years due to hunters. The poachers kill the elephants to sell their ivory tusks and other parts to Chinese and Vietnamese buyers who use them for traditional medicines.

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Officials canceled the 2020 event due to the spread of COVID-19.

A tour operator said holding the event will please the tourism industry in Xayabury province and related sectors as most of the people attending are Laotians.

Another tour operator said it has no plans to bring domestic tourists to the three-day festival this year, as all visitor buses are booked to travel elsewhere during that time.

But he said it would be easier for visitors from other provinces and the capital Vientiane to reach the festival via the Laos-China high-speed train and bus. By car, the journey from Vientiane to Xayabury province takes seven or eight hours, he said.

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“Now it’s convenient because the Lao-Chinese railway from Luang Prabang to Xayabury only takes one hour and from Vientiane to Luang Prabang two hours, so three hours in total,” the tour operator said.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.