Myanmar And The Elephant Project Made History By Signing Agreement For Elephant's Care

A newborn Asian elephant stands next to her mother Aye Chan May at Pairi Daiza wildlife park, a zoo and botanical garden in Brugelette.
A newborn Asian elephant stands next to her mother Aye Chan May at Pairi Daiza wildlife park, a zoo and botanical garden in Brugelette. (Photo: REUTERS/Margaret Madro)

The Myanmar government and The Elephant Project signed a new historical agreement that aimed to relocate elephants into a safer place, avoiding human conflicts. It was the first time the country made a settlement for the care of this animal after the government-owned elephants were turned into an attraction and forced to perform in parks, following the ban of raw timber export in 2014.

"We have to take action now," Dane Waters, The Elephant Project founder, and president, said, per the South China Morning Post. The worsening case of deforestation in Myanmar destroys Elephants' habitat, so they are left wandering in villages in search of food. However, their search often leads to human-elephant conflicts that put both parties in danger.  

Under the new agreement, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and The Elephant Project's forest department will look for elephants that need to be moved. They also have to find a place where they can be safely relocated.

The Elephant Project will begin relocating 10 to 15 elephants to designated safe zones. However, the organization has bigger plans to build a sanctuary that will be home to Myanmar's many captive elephants. About 5,520 gentle giants live in captivity, which are almost two folds of the 3,000 estimated elephants that live in the wild.

"Our sanctuary plan is different to any that has ever been built before," Waters said. If it happens, it will be the biggest sanctuary ever constructed and may hold up to 3,000 elephants.  

There will be different investment opportunities to fund the sanctuary project. It includes ethical elephant experiences and eco-friendly stays near the shelter. Waters assured that these things would be built with the elephants' welfare in mind. "Investment is going into protecting elephants," he said.

Freelance documentary photographer Ko Myo revealed elephants' story in Myanmar is a sad one. According to The Irrawaddy, he saw how people treated these animals when wild elephants passed by a town in Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Region.

About six elephants from the Bago mountain range wandered into Kyaukpadaung Township. When villagers saw them, they came together and used tame elephants to force them to change their director. They went back to their habitat in the mountains, where elephant poaching usually happened.

If wild elephants continuously lost their habitat, there will be more conflict with humans and illegal trading. Hence, their species may disappear in Myanmar.

Ko Ye Min Thwin, Senior Communications Officer at WWF Myanmar, said Ko Myo's photos could help people to know more about elephants. "They are lovely and worth protecting; that we should value them and they don't deserve to be killed," he added. The photographer, on the other hand, disclosed that the only solution to solve this problem is to raise awareness and urge people to stop using products made of animals' part.

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