Myanmar Sees a Bright Future for a Sustainable Elephant Tourism Product

Myanmar, nature, elephant conservation, sustainability

Elephant riding to be banned

While many countries in Southeast Asia are turning increasingly hesitant at exploiting elephants for tourism purposes, Myanmar believes that a sustainable elephant tourism product has bright perspectives in the country, as reported by the Myanmar Times.

If tourists want to see elephants in Myanmar, they will probably visit one of the conservation centre run by a government-led company, the Myanma Timber Enterprise. The latter operates the largest number of elephants conservation- camps in the country: 18 which generated over Us$325,000 in the last two years, since they started operation.

As explained by the Myanmar Times, a government ban on timber exploitation for a period of one year nationwide and ten years in areas already strongly affected by deforestation has forced the management of Myanma Timber Enterprise to diversify its activities.

And as it used to have elephants helping carrying the wood – a traditional way used for centuries- the company  converted its elephant camps into elephant conservation-based tourism camps. it then helped protect and keep some 3,000 mahouts busy and provide them with an income.

Myanma Timber Enterprise number of elephants is spectacular: they are 3,078 elephants, of which 514 are under 4, 734 are between 4 and 18, and 1597 are 18 to 55 years old. The rest, 233, are retired elephants.

Each elephant above four years old needs a mahout to train it for working with people, which is why the company has more than 2500 mahouts.

Among the 3078 elephants, the company uses 205 elephants at its 18 elephant camps, it said.

“Elephant conservation-based tourism has proven successful. Also we need to do more hospitality training for people who live in the camps and build more infrastructure in the camps,” U Moe Myint, deputy general manager of Myanma Timber, told The Myanmar Times. They are now thoughts to open further elephant tourism camps.

The camps charge an entrance fee of K1000, and an elephant ride costs K5000 for locals. However, foreign tourists are charged K20,000 for the entrance fee and elephant ride.

“We have to return to the government all income from entrance fees and elephant rided,” U Moe Myint explained to the Myanmar Times. “That income is only enough to cover the elephants’ food and medicines but is not sufficient to pay the mahouts, who are paid by the government.”

The Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and Myanma Timber met to discuss developing more elephant conservation-based tourism camps on April 9.

“There a lot of things done with elephants in the tourism industry of other countries, and we need to do more,” said U Min Thein, vice chairman of UMTA. “Also, Myanma Timber and tourism operators need to cooperate more.”

Elephant conservation-based tourism needs more promotion by cooperating with tourism operators, he said.

“This kind of tourism would be very successful if we strengthen cooperation,” U Min Thein said. “But we need to train the elephants more and promote the camps more.”

There are 52 veterinarians for the 3,078 elephants, so the government needs to encourage more people to study veterinary medicine to ensure the conservation of Myanmar’s treasured elephants, said Dr Zaw Min Oo, a vet and manager of Myanma Timber.

“Some elephant camps are very far from cities, so vets have to stay for more than 20 days in a month, and move from camp to camp with poor facilities,” he said.

The younger generation is not interested in veterinary jobs, because they have no benefits, status or incentives,” he said to the newspaper.

According to the Emergency Elephant Response Unit, 59 wild elephants were killed during the 2017-18 fiscal year by poaching, which has become a major threat to the animals.

Burma’s wild elephant numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 50 years and appear to still be in decline, according to elephant conservation group EleAid.

Among the major threats are poaching and habitat loss and fragmentation, it added.

(Source: Myanmar Times)