Long has been given the nickname “doctor for elephants” by local villagers. The 43-year-old man gave up his position as the director of Hồ Lắk eco-tourism area and since then has devoted most of his time and fortunes to protecting and caring for tame elephants in his own ways.
Death of Khăm Bun
Long is the third generation of a legendary family associated with elephants in the central highlands. His father is Dang Nhay, a once well-known elephant hunter and his mother is So Thong Chan, a pretty ‘elephant merchant’.
Long has been known as the physician for elephants since the death of Kham Bun, a famed elephant that passed away six years ago.
In December 2006, a baby wild elephant got separated from his herd and suffered from severe wounds on its legs after getting caught in a trap. Ama Bích, an elephant hunter in Don Village, brought it home and named it Khăm Bun.
Long was always by the side of the injured animal to cure and tame it. However, at that time, the local government forbade people from catching wild elephants, so Khăm Bun was taken to Hanoi to become a circus animal of the Vietnam Circus Federation.
Yet the animal’s health deteriorated during his time in the cpital thanks to his serious injuries. Worried, Long went to Hanoi to visit Khăm Bun. Upon seeing him, the animal lowered his head and touched its former owner with his trunk.
“That was the last time I saw it. I had anticipated his death after seeing the treatment that was designed for it. No one understands that an elephant -- unlike other animals – has little chance of recovering if it receive inappropriate treatment, even if it takes medicine,” Long pointed out.
Since Khăm Bun’s death Long has devoted most of his time and effort to caring for the remaining tame elephants in the village.
“I often tell mahouts that the best way to cure the elephant’s diseases is to love them as they love themselves,” Long said.
In June, 2007 a female elephant named H’Banh, in Jun village, had it legs crushed by a big tree while it was transporting wood. The owner tried to seek the best treatment for the animal that he could, but all of the efforts ended in failure. He then asked Long for help.
Long tried to console the animal and used his home remedy to cure it. Two weeks later, the elephant had recovered and was able to eat.
An elephant lover’s confidence
Since 2008 there has been a belief that elephant tail hair brings good luck and cures all diseases, so the tame elephants left in Dak Lak have been threatened by poachers.
Three of Long’s elephants are victims of poachers who attacked them for tail hair.
According to Long, the existing tame elephants not only face the risk of being killed by humans, but also are exploited for tourism purposes.
“I saw an emaciated elephant tied to a tree when I took a trip in a tourism area. It broke my heart as if I was kept in captivity and abandoned like the poor animal. Afterwards, I was not able to eat even a grain of rice, and left the holiday unfinished,” Long confided.
Long said he is in the process of finding answers for his only two concerns in life: How can he make the elephants reproduce?, and Who will the elephants be friends with once he passes away? In regards to the first question, Long intends to release his elephants into a large forest so that the animals have more space for sexual acts to deliver more babies. For the second, he wants to leave his herd of elephants to a reliable man who is possibly not related to him.
“I have adopted many young people and asked them to make friends with elephants. It’s possible that one of them will take over the herd for me once I die,” Long said.
In the eyes of everybody
Huynh Trung Lan, director of Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center:
It’s not uncommon to see elephants contracting diseases these days due to the stressful living environment. But even if one elephant refuses to eat, that would be a big problem for Long. We have common great love for the elephant. Though there are still a lot of artisans associated with elephants in the central highlands, only a few can understand the big mammal’s character and are capable of treating them.
Le Van Ha, director of Hồ Lắk eco-tourism area:
I will never forget a story in which Dang Nang Long disguised himself as a merchant who purchased elephant tails with the aim of uncovering real poachers. He spent months wandering around shops selling goods made of the animal’s body in the central highlands and finally found information about a group of poachers. On a night in mid-July in 2010, when the poachers were amputating the tail of an elephant, local police rushed in and caught them in the act. They were later sentenced to prison by a court in Dak Lak province.
Y Thanh Uong, a mahout at Hồ Lắk eco-tourism area: “Long is very skillful at curing elephants. One day, Long and I went on a trip to Da Lat, I received a phone call from Ama Mứ in Nieng Village that his elephant had been sick for several days and was struggling to stay alive. Long just smiled and said the animal had sunstroke and should eat carrots and rest for a couple of days. Ama Mứ followed his advice and the elephant recovered well a few days later. One more story I would like to tell you happened recently. My elephant, Bun Nang, had one eye full of pus and the other eye was short-sighted. We gave it to Long as a gift because we were not able to treat the disease. But the animal healed after being treated by the caring hands of Long for several months.