Myanmar has around 5,000 elephants living in captivity – more than any other Asian country. More than half of them belong to a single government logging agency, the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE). Elephants are chosen over machines because they do the least damage to the forest.
These elephants have survived ancient wars, colonialism and World War II while hard woods extracted by elephants in Myanmar once fed the British naval fleet. Yet today, Myanmar\’s timber elephant is under threat.
Once the richest reservoir for biodiversity in Asia, Myanmar\’s forest cover is steadily depleting and the government blames it on illegal loggers.
Now, the forest policy is being overhauled.
The Ministry for Environmental Conservation and Forestry has pledged to reduce its logging by more than 80,000 tonnes this fiscal year. Myanmar will ban raw teak and timber exports by April 1, 2014, allowing only export of high-end finished timber products.
MTE says that the private elephant owners contracted by the government will be the first on the chopping block. Saw Moo, a second generation private elephant owner, sees a bleak future for his stable of 20 elephants. He fears the family business will end in his hands and he may have to sell his elephants, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.