March 13, 2015
Walk on the Wild Side
- as seen by -Antony Lynam
On a brisk winter morning in January, a ranger team is on patrol in Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park in Myanmar. It is an Elephant Protection Unit, versed with the task of monitoring movements of wild elephants, and at the same time looking for poachers, illegal fishers, and rosewood loggers. In the tough terrain, the team must traverse on foot for up to fifteen days a month. Only a work elephant is able to provide support in these conditions–and in all seasons.
On this day, I walked with rangers as they navigated through the dry, deciduous, dipterocarp forest. I stop frequently to admire the elephant and chat with his mahout. Through teeth stained with betel juice, the mahout explains how his charge carries food and all camping equipment needed by the team on their long patrols in the forest, the elephant helps bring out illegal gear and contraband confiscated by the rangers.
As the legal timber industry winds down, up to 6,000 elephants will soon be out of work. Deploying work elephants for forest patrolling in Myanmar’s parks and sanctuaries is one solution for keeping elephants and their mahouts employed.