Working elephants in Myanmar
For a peaceful, animal-friendly life
Covid-19 crisis: Animal welfare work in times of a pandemic
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So far, animal welfare plays hardly a role regarding the keeping and especially the traditional taming of elephants working in the wood industry at the Indawgyi Lake in Myanmar. The violent handling of animals as well as a deficient basic and veterinary treatment leads to many animals suffering from physical and mental pain during their whole lives. Together with our partner organisation Chances for Nature (CfN), we want to help the elephants in their unfortunate situation and ensure a better life for them in the long term.
Many inhabitants of the region around the Indawgyi Lake in the North of Myanmar make their living from the wood sector. As one of the last countries in Asia, Myanmar still uses working elephants in forestry to this day. The owners of the elephants “rent“ them to the elephant riders, who utilise them under a lot of performance pressure to transport the biggest possible amounts of wood. Because the competition is strong and the payment is not based on the number of work hours carried out but on the amount of procured wood.
The elephants are indispensable in the wood sector – only with them it is possible to get to places in the dense forest that are unreachable for machines. But whether old or young, healthy or ill: around 150 elephants have to do hard work for many hours daily. Thereby they do not only face the limits of their physical strength but also suffer from not being taken care of according to their needs.
The suffering already begins with the taming
In order to make the elephants “useful“ for their service, they have to be tamed first. This process may be referred to as “breaking the will“. For lack of knowledge regarding animal-friendly training methods, the taming is still carried out according to the local tradition and poses a real torture for the animals: At the age of about four to five years, they are deprived of water and nutrition and/or are inflicted with pain until their will is broken and they comply with the orders of the humans. Since the offspring is used to human contact until this point but is still not trained, the taming becomes very difficult. Oftentimes it is still necessary to use violence regularly in their later years in order to maintain the power structure. The use of machetes, which not uncommonly leads to injuries in the elephants, is unfortunately a sad everyday occurrence in this process.
The further course of their working life also entails much suffering for the animals: the elephant riders, who are responsible to take care of the elephants, frequently push them to the limits of their strength due to the high performance pressure. The animals therefore often lack nutrition or calm, for example, and despite having illnesses, they are forced to work. Besides the everyday suffering of the working elephants, there are also repeatedly phases when there are no job orders for the elephant riders and when, as a consequence, neither them nor the owners take care of the animals in a sufficient way.
Together with CfN, it is our goal to improve the lives of the loyal working elephants. For that, we aim to replace the violent taming and training methods with non-violent and animal-friendly measures and increase awareness among the elephant riders and owners regarding the needs as well as the individual physical condition of the animals, because they are the people immediately responsible for the welfare of their animals and therefore have to shape these necessary changes.
Regular veterinary treatment for the elephants
In order to strengthen the physical health of the elephants, we establish a local veterinary team, consisting of a project manager and an assistant, that regularly examines and treats the elephants. As part of this mission, the team will determine the health status of all elephants and register the information of the owners and elephant riders in a database. By including the present owners and/or riders in the procedures and informing them about the necessary veterinary measures, we lay the foundation of a trusting collaboration and a basic understanding of the essential problems.
For long-term animal welfare success, it is also crucial to impart the local veterinarians in the regions bordering the project area with necessary skills regarding the care of elephants. With the support of another elephant expert, the local veterinarians of these regions are trained, learning about which nutrition and care the elephants should receive and how common elephant ailments can be treated.
Through the development of additional veterinary skills, we not only improve the welfare of 150 working elephants at the Indawgyi Lake, but also of all the working elephants living in the neighbouring regions.
Encouraging knowledge, exchange and proactivity
Furthermore, we are planning the foundation of an Elephant Owner Association EOA, which develops guidelines and aims to sensitise as many elephant owners as possible regarding the needs of the animals and animal-friendly handling. Besides strengthening the communication among each other, the organisation should also promote an exchange with other interest groups like the wood sector or the local politics. Our undertaking is to bring all those responsible to the table in order to jointly initiate changes that improve the welfare of working elephants in the long run.
Please help us to finally give the maltreated working elephants in Myanmar the chance of a better life. With your donation, you make our work possible.