Tour operators, timber company see bright future for elephant tourism

The government-run Myanma Timber Enterprise had earned about K430 million (US$325,535) since it began operating 18 elephant conservation-based tourism camps around the country two years ago.

The government has banned timber extraction for a period of one year for the whole country and for 10 years in Bago Yoma Hills in central Myanmar, effective from the 2016-17 fiscal year.

As a result of the ban, the management of Myanma Timber Enterprise converted its elephant camps into elephant conservation-based tourism camps in a bid to earn revenue while providing income for 3000 mahouts, or elephant handlers, and help maintain the company’s herd of pachyderms, which are used to move felled trees out of the woods.

“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.

Myanma Timber owns 3078 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 4 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.

“We are looking for more places to open elephant conservation-based tourism camps,” he added.

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 said. “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 3078 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.

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

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