Renowned artist Ai Weiwei has expressed his concerns about the uncertain future of working elephants in Myanmar, following a trip to the country to witness their plight first-hand, alongside international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS.
Last week, the Chinese artist, currently based in Berlin, visited several elephant camps with his team and the animal welfare experts to get an idea of the elephants’ living conditions. It was a sad sight, with many elephants chained up and unable to live under natural conditions or move about freely.
“I am so sad to see that. Elephants are quite similar to human beings, they are intelligent and emotional creatures,” says Ai Weiwei. “Unfortunately, elephants have been placed in these conditions by humans. This is not right and not fair. Elephants deserve to live in freedom, but they have always been mistreated. If I could I would wish to release them immediately. They are born to be free and not captive like this. Let the elephants be free!”
Almost 5,000 working elephants in Myanmar
Around 2,900 of the nearly 5,000 working elephants in Myanmar belong to state-owned enterprises; the rest are in private hands. For decades, the abused animals have been working for the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise. However, the ban on raw timber export has rendered over 1,000 elephants “jobless”. For their owners, the elephants are now considered useless and are increasingly a financial burden. These animals are therefore abandoned, killed, or smuggled to neighbouring countries for tourism purposes.
“Working elephants live in terrible conditions,” reports FOUR PAWS vet Dr. Amir Khalil, who accompanied Ai Weiwei during his trip. “They have been deprived of their natural habitat and are forced to vegetate chained in elephant camps. We share the common values that if humans have rights elephants also have rights. Most of these elephants could be rehabilitated and reintroduced into the wild.”
FOUR PAWS constructs ELEPHANTS LAKE sanctuary
FOUR PAWS is now preparing for the construction of one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in Southeast Asia in order to secure the future of the unemployed animals. In the 17,000-hectare ELEPHANTS LAKE in the Bago Region, veterinarians and experts will rehabilitate former logging elephants as well as injured or orphaned wild elephants, and prepare them for a life of freedom. The first animals are expected to move into the elephant sanctuary within the coming months.
Ai Weiwei supports FOUR PAWS in rescue of suffering elephants
Ai Weiwei wishes to support FOUR PAWS in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of the orphaned and former working elephants. He emphasises the importance of this pioneering project for Myanmar as a nation with a rich environmental heritage that could promote long-term sustainable elephant conservation on an international scale. For the artist, this is an act of humanity.
Ai Weiwei: “We need to return these wonderful animals to their natural habitats. This is not only an issue for FOUR PAWS, this is an issue for humanity. I look forward to rescuing and releasing the first elephants soon into ELEPHANTS LAKE together with the representative for animals Dr. Amir Khalil from FOUR PAWS.”