BOSTON - May 9th, 2018 – Roughly 1,000 “jobless” elephants face death or suffering as tourist attractions in Myanmar. A large population of these retirees was created after logging restrictions and export bans have decreased the need for their labour in the teak industry.
In response to this crisis, FOUR PAWS, the international animal welfare organization, has begun construction of one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in Southeast Asia: ELEPHANT’S LAKE. At the new sanctuary, located in the Bagon region in Myanmar, FOUR PAWS veterinarians will tend to former logging, orphaned, and injured elephants on 6,880 acres of land. The first animals will be welcomed at the end of 2018.
Of the roughly 5,000 working elephants in Myanmar, approximately 2,900 belong to state-owned enterprises while the remainder fall under private ownership. For decades, these elephants are taken from the wild or bred, forcefully trained and go on to endure a lifetime of arduous work toppling and carrying heavy tree trunks. Now, new environmental regulations are having an unintended impact: To preserve forests from deforestation, the logging industry was reformed leading to many captive elephants with no economic purpose.
“It’s harsh, but for their owners, these elephants are now useless and a financial burden. The animals are therefore killed or sold into the tourism industry. Unfortunately, elephant riding is still considered a fun 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, the animals can recover from the exertions of their past and, ideally, be reintroduced to the wild.”
Dr. Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and head of the pilot project
On May 1st, the first construction phase of ELEPHANT’S LAKE was launched. Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry provided the land, while a state-owned forestry organization, “Myanmar Timber Enterprise,” was tasked with placing of the elephants. Additionally, local NGO, “Mingalar Myanmar,” will provide support by communicating with the Oozies – caretakers of 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 of animal welfare and eco-friendly tourism. Depending on the rainy season, we hope to welcome the first five to six elephants in late 2018. Over the next 10 years, up to 300 elephants will receive rehabilitation at ELEPHANTS LAKE.”
Heli Dungler, President and Founder of FOUR PAWS International
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. ELEPHANT’S LAKE will provide species appropriate enclosures for these magnificent animals, as well as an orphanage for young elephants and a hospital with a mobile clinic. The goal 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, the elephants will remain at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.