To end human-elephant conflict, protect forests

By Nat Ye Hla

With their habitats disappearing due to the depleting natural forest cover, wild elephants have begun frequenting villages and damaging crops in some areas. In the incidents, the wild elephants entered villages, looking for food. In some incidents, some villagers were killed by wild elephants.
There are around 2,000 wild elephants in Myanmar, and human-elephant conflict is becoming a major issue.
Such conflicts are especially common in Taikkyi Township of Yangon Region, Ayeyawady Region, and Rakhine State, and Taninthayi Region.
According to a 2001 survey, there are 100 wild elephants in Taninthayi Region. They usually inhabit the Mawthaung, Kawthoung, and Bokepyin townships.
In last year’s accident in Bokepyin, three villagers were killed by the wild elephants.
Earlier, the township, which is located in the Kawthoung District of Taninthayi Region, was covered in forests, providing a good habitat for wild animals. But the forest cover made the area difficult to access. Now, the authorities have upgraded the road to provide better transportation. People have also extended the premises of their homes.
Additionally, the authorities have granted permits for timber extraction. The residents are also engaging in oil palm plantations on a manageable scale, thereby resulting in deforestation and loss of habitats of wild animals.
As consequences, a group of around three to five wild elephants usually frequents the villages in search of food. People were getting worried about the attacks from them.
The situation has warned that we need to conserve the elephants as well as the forest. Wild elephants have lost their habitats as people have felled trees in large numbers.
We want the related departments and organizations to work with us to find suitable protection from the danger of
wild elephants.

Some key points for causing the human-elephant conflicts
Reduced forest area
During, the past few centuries forest area was reduced due to cultivations, depriving elephants their natural habitats. The lands consist of mountainous and valleys or rolling lands with highlands and low valleys. Over the centuries, topsoil from mountains and highlands got washed off due to rain and sediments were deposited in valleys. These fertile valleys support lush vegetation and provide most food to elephants.
During the development schemes, the lands below the irrigation canals were allocated to settlers, and mountains and highlands with poor soils were earmarked as animal sanctuaries. But none looked into the ability of the high lands to supply animal needs.

A herd of wild elephants raid villages in search of food in Bokpyin Township. Photo: Myint Oo (Myeik)
A herd of wild elephants raid villages in search of food in Bokpyin Township. Photo: Myint Oo (Myeik)

The rape of the forests
Along with the reduction of forest area, the quality of forests that produced food for the elephants and other animals reduced due to human action. With the increase in human population demand for timber increased, which were obtained from the forests.
Most hardwoods take long years to mature; they also make low demand from soil fertility and even water. The grain patterns of their wood, a result from the dry and wet spells the tree underwent over the long growing period. Today, most popular timber varieties have disappeared from forests. While our indigenous valuable trees have disappeared, spaces they occupied were replaced by fast growing and quick multiplying thorny invasive plants, mostly imported to the country as ornamental plants. Today, most of our forests constitute of shrubs, devoid of tall trees.

Village encroachment
During colonisation, landless families were settled in development schemes. After decades, with children grown up and raising families of their own, original lands are insufficient. They encroach into low fertile valleys depriving elephants of their food supply. While villagers encroach into forests, authorities under political pressure turn a blind eye. When elephants enter their traditional lands, villagers complain and demand electric fences to keep elephants at bay. Even the elephant corridors are not safe from encroachment.

Threat to wild elephants
Not only habitat loss, but poaching and human-elephant conflict are also pressing threats to wild elephant conservation in Myanmar
The number of elephants killed has increased dramatically since 2010, with 133 wild elephant deaths recorded over the last seven years, including 25 in 2016 alone.
We also need additional support for the protection of elephants in the wild. This conservation plan for elephants is a great step forward, and we now have a solid foundation to address this vital issue in Myanmar.
To mitigate the conflict between humans and elephants in rural areas, we need to find solutions based on the information and data collected in conflict areas.
Revitalizing the elephant emergency response units which can control wild elephants in conflict areas is an urgent need.
Taking stock of the two situations, we would like to urge the related departments and organizations to work with villagers to find suitable protective measures against wild elephants, while also saving wild elephants from poachers.
We need to protect elephants as well as forests. Now, wild elephants have lost their habitats as people have felled trees in large numbers.
Today, raising awareness about the nature and behavior of elephants and the threats they face is a must, and measures need to be taken as quickly as possible to provide protection to humans and elephants.

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