‘Re­tire­ment’ sanc­tu­ary opened for work­ing In­dian ele­phants

The Mercury - - NEWS - Lisa Isaacs

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL an­i­mal wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tion Four Paws has started the con­struc­tion of one of the largest ele­phant sanc­tu­ar­ies in South­east Asia for for­mer work­ing ele­phants in Myan­mar.

For­mer log­ging ele­phants, as well as or­phaned or in­jured an­i­mals, will be re­ha­bil­i­tated at the new fa­cil­ity, to be called Ele­phants Lake.

Four Paws said ex­port bans and log­ging re­stric­tions in Myan­mar had ren­dered “job­less” about 1 000 ele­phants that had been work­ing in the teak in­dus­try.

For decades, the abused an­i­mals have been wan­der­ing with lum­ber­jacks through Myan­mar’s forests to as­sist with felling and car­ry­ing heavy tree trunks.

To pre­vent the now unemployed an­i­mals from be­ing killed or hav­ing to en­dure be­ing tourist at­trac­tions, Four Paws has started the con­struc­tion of the sanc­tu­ary.

In the 17 000-hectare fa­cil­ity in the Bago Re­gion, vets and ex­perts will re­ha­bil­i­tate the ele­phants and pre­pare them for a life of free­dom.

Con­struc­tion be­gan at the start of this month, and the first an­i­mals are ex­pected to move into the ele­phant sanc­tu­ary by the end of this year.

Four Paws vet and head of the pi­lot project, Dr Amir Khalil, said: “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 the sanc­tu­ary, the an­i­mals could re­cover from the ex­er­tions of their past and, ide­ally, be rein­tro­duced to the wild, Khalil said.

The pop­u­la­tion of Asian ele­phants, the sec­ond largest land an­i­mal in the world, has more than halved in re­cent decades, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture and Nat­u­ral Re­sources (IUCN).

There are only 2 000 wild ele­phants left in Myan­mar.

Four Paws said the sanc­tu­ary aimed 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 would be able to stay in the sanc­tu­ary for the rest of their lives.

Myan­mar’s Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion and Forestry pro­vided the land, while state-owned forestry or­gan­i­sa­tion Myan­mar Tim­ber En­ter­prise will place the ele­phants.

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