Rescue of H'Plo the elephant

30 March 2021

Meet the beautiful and gentle H’Plo, a 46-year old female Asian elephant who Animals Asia rescued from the elephant riding industry and now spends her days roaming with her friends in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park.

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H’Plo was born in the Buon Don district of the Dak Lak province in Southern Vietnam, and was taken into the tourist industry as a young calf. Her name is pronounced ‘huh plo’, like ‘low’, the ‘p’ lying somewhere between a ‘b’ and a ‘p’, and meaning Twinkling in English. 

She had been sold and moved between districts a few times over the years and eventually came to be with her current mahout (meaning trainer or keeper) Nhat Bya and his family when Nhat was just 16 years old.

Between 2011 and her rescue in December 2020, H’Plo spent her days wearing a heavy seat on her back and giving tourists rides. Elephant riding is still a popular activity in some South-east Asian countries and is a way for many boys and men in rural parts of the country, where employment opportunities are scarce, to earn money for their families.

But with growing government and community concern for elephant and tourist welfare (a tourist was seriously injured in a riding incident which prompted a ban on elephant riding in Buon Don), the Bya family agreed to release H’Plo into Animals Asia’s care at the Yok Don National Park.

Crossing the bridge to freedom

H’Plo had been with the Bya family for ten years and they were pleased they no longer had to use her for riding to make a living. They arranged a farewell ceremony for H’Plo, which their community traditionally host during significant times, such as someone passing or a family moving away.

It was a bittersweet moment when the time came for the family to say goodbye to H’Plo for the final time as her mahout Nhat led her away. For the beginning of the journey, Nhat rode on H’Plo’s back, one last ride to ensure her safety and the safety of the public on the roads leading to the Yok Don National Park.

On the final leg of the journey as they crossed the bridge to the park, Nhat walked side by side with H’Plo, gently encouraging and guiding her to her new home in the forest where she’ll never be ridden again.

Friends reunited

When H’Plo arrived at the park she met H’Non who, in an incredible twist of fate, used to work at the same riding camp as H’Plo. To everyone’s surprise and delight they recognised each other instantly and got on as old friends often do. 

Since then, the ladies of leisure have been inseparable and a lovely, respectful bond has developed between them. Even though H’Plo is the bigger of the two, H’Non is older at 58, and when they go down to the river for a dip, H’Plo stands back and allows H’Non to enter the water first.

The pair now spend their days roaming around the forest, foraging for food and lounging in the river. After decades of hard work they are finally free to simply be elephants.

How Animals Asia is working towards ending elephant riding in Vietnam

In 2014 we launched the Ethical Elephant Initiative and began lobbying the authorities of the Dak Lak province - where the majority of the riding camps in the country are - to bring an end to the industry.

Two years later, the Dak Lak Agriculture and Rural Development Department signed an agreement with Animals Asia - the first time the authorities had signed a conservation agreement with an international organisation. This enabled us to work directly with key stakeholders, policy makers and local communities, and run awareness campaigns about the threats to wild and captive elephant populations.

In July 2018, thanks to the support of The Olsen Animal Trust, Animals Asia signed an agreement with the Yok Don National Park to end elephant riding within the park and to collaborate on the establishment of Vietnam's first ethical elephant tourism experience, allowing tourists to simply follow the elephants in the forest.

As Animals Asia’s Director of Animal Welfare, Dave Neale explains, “we are having promising conversations with policy makers and local elephant owners and there appears to be an interest in moving towards a more sustainable, ethical model of elephant tourism in the region.”

“There is still a long way to go, but judging by the success of our initiative so far, we foresee very positive change for Vietnam’s elephants in the near future.”

Will you help us bring an end to elephant riding in Vietnam with a monthly donation?

Read more:

Agreement seals chance of better future for Vietnam’s elephants

Ethical Elephant Tours

National park stops elephant rides with new tourism model designed to end elephant exploitation in Vietnam

Orphaned elephant loves his new sandpit and swimming pool

Vietnam’s first ethical elephant tours launch | Vietnam holidays | The Guardian

Book your trip: Welcome to Yok Don National Park - Yok Don National Park, Ecotourism