Conservation efforts to save wild elephants in Myanmar

  • By Win Naing Thaw

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World Elephant Day is an international annual event held on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants. Everyone, including industry players, has a role in protecting wildlife and their habitat. The goal of the World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of endangered elephants, and to share knowledge as well as positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants. The Asian or Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus) has been widely distributed in Myanmar for millions of years, and fossilized ancient elephant bones have been found in the central and upper parts of Myanmar.

Intelligent animal
Myanmar is a globally-recognized biodiversity hotspot, because it supports a very high number of species, many of which are unique to the region and of global importance. Myanmar’s wildlife includes a mix of species from north, south and Southeast Asia, which find shelter in a wide range of habitats throughout the country. The country abounds in a wide range of biodiversity of ecosystem and forests.
Elephants are the largest mammals, belonging to the family Elephantidae. They are divided into two kinds: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. They also have the largest brain among all the land animals. Also, they are regarded as one of the intelligent animals and humankind’s best friends because of their social and intelligent behaviour. They are also known for showing emotions like joy and sorrow, and they have several distinctive features. The proboscis greatly assists them in breathing, lifting water and grasping objects. Elephants are known to have unforgettable memories. The African elephants are known for their larger ears while Asian elephants for smaller ears and convex or level backs.

Asian and African elephants
There are many different species of elephants in the world, and among them the most usual ones that we can find at present are the African Elephant (Loxodonta African) and the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus). The remaining types of elephants are facing negative effects of drastic depletion of both females and males around the world. It’s high time for authorities concerned to conserve the wild elephant species as a top priority. Once common throughout Africa and Asia, elephant numbers have been severely depleted, largely due to the poaching and massive ivory trade. While some populations are now stable and growing, poaching, conflicts and habitat destructions continue to threaten the species.
African elephants are one of the largest land mammals on earth. They are distinguished by their massive body, large ears and a long trunk, for which they have many uses, ranging from using it as a hand to pick up objects, as a horn to trumpet warnings, as an arm raised in greeting or as a hose for drinking water or bathing.
Asian elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives. They are much smaller in size and their ears are straight at the bottom, unlike the large fan-shape ears of the African species. Only some Asian male elephants have tusks, although all African elephants, including females, have them. Elephants are either left or right-tusked and the one they use more is usually smaller because of wear and tear. Asian elephants have four toes on the hind foot and five on the forefoot, while the African elephants have three on the hind foot and five on the forefoot.
As for these two species of elephants, they are in need of extensive land to survive and as they consume hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day, both the species require extensive amounts of food, water and space. As a result, these large mammals place great demands on the environment and often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.

War elephants and white elephants
Since the ancient times of the Myanmar kings, elephants have been domesticated and they played an important part in battles. War elephants had been thoroughly trained and guided by soldiers for combat. Their main use was to charge the enemies, breaking their ranks and instilling terror.
A white elephant is very rare and their skin is normally a soft reddish-brown, turning into a light pink when wet. They have fair eyelashes and toenails. According to tradition, white elephants are nominally white and regarded as symbols of power and good fortune in Myanmar. The battle for the elephant’s survival is vital for the future of the species in Myanmar.

Logging elephants
Myanmar has been using elephants on a large scale in the timber industry, an activity that is a crucial part of the country’s economy. Logging is mostly carried out with the help of elephants in the country. The use of elephants allows a policy of selective logging, to extract valuable timber that can be fulfilled using elephant labour. The main work of the elephants is to drag felled timber from the lumbering area to roads or rivers from where it can be transported out of the jungle. Logging work is exceptionally hard, but strict regulations are designed to maintain the health of the elephants. There are many elephant experts who can conduct the elephant management, veterinary care and mahout skills. Myanmar used to possess approximately some 10,000 elephants in former times. The current population is estimated to be around 2000, according to experts. Elephants are being killed recklessly for their ivory, and their skins have been stripped from their bodies.
According to a statement from the Department of Forestry, 35 wild elephants were poached in 2015, 26 in 2016, and 59 in 2017. The Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan (MECAP) has been laid out to focus on elephant conservation strategies in the long run, with the aim of securing viable and ecologically functional elephant populations in Myanmar.
The ministry has launched an action plan, aiming to support the long-term survival of Myanmar’s elephants, in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature and Friends of Wildlife, governmental departments, agencies, international and local organizations. Moreover, the action plan is focused on the protection of the country’s wild elephants and their habitat, mitigation of human and elephant conflict, combating illegal trade in elephants and their body parts, and management of captive elephants and captive-wild elephant interactions.

Translated by
Win Ko Ko Aung

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