Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Timber extraction with elephants is an old tradition in Burmese silviculture and still today, the majority of timber in Myanmar (Burma) is dragged by about 3,000 working elephants (MTE, 2001). Climatic and topographical conditions impede the operation of machines. Besides, timber extraction has to meet the regulations of the Myanmar Selection System (MSS) which includes sustainable forest management. The damage of soil and remaining stands by elephants may be less compared to machines. Therefore extraction is not possible without elephants according to Burmese foresters and veterinarians. Consequently elephants could play an important role in sustainable forest management also in future.
Cruel elephant taming and training methods does not meet the requirements of international animal welfare organisations. Low education and salaries for the workers and their families lead to high pressure on natural resources like forests, rivers and the local fauna. So elephants, wild living (about 4,000 in Burma, MARTIN & VIGNE, 1997) as well as tamed ones, enter into competition about natural resources with the human population, which causes many conflicts. Elephant habitats are shrinking due to agricultural expansion, natural fodder is scarce and wild living elephants are destroying fields by feeding on agricultural products.
If this tradition can be still maintained in future, depends on solutions for diverse conflicts. More investigations on natural elephant habitats and fodder are required, elephant taming and training methods should be modified and the situation of workers and their families in the elephant camps should be improved, which means poverty reduction and development of rural areas. A great task which is not easy to settle and can take a long time -- maybe too long!
Keywords: Extraction, Myanmar (Burma), natural resources, poverty, working elephants