Exports of raw timber generated over $1 billion in revenue to Myanmar and has been the major source of income supporting most of the country’s elephants held in human care. The government owned Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) currently owns and manages about 3,000 elephants, approximately 10% of the worldwide Asian elephant population. In 2014, the government of Myanmar banned the export of raw timber and greatly reduced logging quotas in a desire to protect the remaining forest and to stimulate a domestic industry of lumber mills and carpentry. Applauded by conservationists, this move requires a multi-year strategy to ensure the long-term care and employment of the existing working elephants and their mahouts as a release program of 3000 captive elephants into the wild is not feasible.
The Conservation Response Unit (CRU) at the Myaing Hay Wun (MHW) elephant camp in Myanmar will mirror IEF’s Sumatra CRU project. It provides the mahouts with an opportunity to learn skills and earn income while improving the care and welfare of the elephants while assisting in important conservation efforts – the elephants provide transportation during patrol activities, as a tool for gaining community interest, and driving away crop raiding wild elephants.