Export bans and logging restrictions in Myanmar have rendered “jobless” around 1,000 elephants, which had been working in the teak industry. In order to prevent the now unemployed animals from being killed or having to suffer as tourist attractions, international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has started the construction of one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in Southeast Asia. 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 by the end 2018.
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 severely abused animals have been wandering with lumberjacks through Myanmar's forests to help felling and carrying heavy tree trunks. However, the introduction of strict environmental regulations has pushed back the demand for teak – leaving around 1,000 elephants effectively redundant. “It sounds harsh, but for their owners, the elephants are now useless and on top of that a financial burden. The animals are therefore either killed or sold to the tourism industry. Unfortunately, elephant riding is still a fun holiday activity for a lot of people. These magnificent, endangered animals do not deserve death or an equally cruel career change. At our first elephant sanctuary in the Bago Region, the animals can recover from the exertions of their past and, ideally, be reintroduced to the wild,” explains Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and head of the pilot project.
Rehabilitation centre, orphanage and hospital
ELEPHANTS LAKE, run by FOUR PAWS, will be one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in Southeast Asia. On an area of 17,000 hectares, captive and wild elephants will find refuge in species-appropriate enclosures. The population of Asian elephants, the second largest land animal in the world, has more than halved in recent decades according to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). There are only 2,000 wild elephants left in Myanmar. At least one animal falls victim to poaching every week. Therefore, an orphanage for young elephants as well as a hospital with a mobile clinic will be located on site. The aim of ELEPHANTS LAKE’s comprehensive rehabilitation program is to bring together new prides and subsequently release the animals into the adjacent North Zar Ma Yi Forest Reserve. If this is not possible anymore, the elephants can stay in the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.
Collaboration between government, forestry and NGOs
On 1st May 2018, FOUR PAWS started the construction of ELEPHANTS LAKE. Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry provided the land, while state-owned forestry organisation “Myanmar Timber Enterprise” will place the elephants. Additionally, local NGO “Mingalar Myanmar” will support in communicating with the Oozies, who currently look after the logging elephants. “Our elephant sanctuary is a pioneer project in terms of conservation of animals and forests. In the long term, together with our local partners, we hope to create new, higher standards for animal welfare and eco-friendly tourism. Depending on the rainy season, we aim to move in the first five to six elephants in late 2018. Over the next ten years, up to 300 elephants are planned to be rehabilitated at ELEPHANTS LAKE,” said Heli Dungler, president and founder of FOUR PAWS, at the ground-breaking ceremony.