Timber Production Stations Become Elephant Camps

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 16 January 2017

RANGOON — Thirteen government-owned timber production stations across the country will become elephant camps for visitors beginning early this year.

After the new government announced last year that timber production would be stopped for 10 years, major production areas near the Bago Yoma mountain range were slated to become elephant camps in order to promote tourism.

U Aye Cho Thaung, deputy general manager of the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, told The Irrawaddy that timber production stations along the Bago Yoma range as well as in Arakan State’s Sagaing Division would become elephant camps.

“We have already opened four elephant camps, and the rest will be opened officially later this year,” he said.

Due to the cessation of timber production, some working elephants between ages 18-55 will be transferred to other areas where timber production is still permitted, primarily in Sagaing Division. Some production areas were only ordered to stop production temporarily.

In the first phase, 75 elephants from Bago Yoma, 18 from Irrawaddy Division and 12 from Taungdwingyi Township will move to Sagaing Division timber stations this month.

Elephants outside of the working age range will be sent to elephant camps around the country. Between 10-20 elephants will be assigned to each elephant camp.

The Wingabaw Elephant Camp in Bago Township has been open for two months, but visitor facilities are still needed, said Ma Shwe Sin, a supervisor at the camp.

“We still need additional facilities, but our budget is insufficient. I hope it will be okay eventually,” she said.

There are currently 11 elephants at the Wingabaw camp. The 80-acre camp was formerly used to store equipment used in timber production.

At the camp, visitors can ride and feed elephants, and watch them bathe. The entrance fee is 1,000 kyats (About US $0.75) for a local visitor and 20,000 kyats for a foreigner. The fee to ride an elephant is an additional 5,000 kyats.

“Each elephant costs about 28 lakhs (about $2,000) per year to maintain so we need a budget for them,” Ma Shwe Sin said.

Once young elephants inside the camp are old enough to work at timber stations, they will be moved. Elephants that reach age 55 will be moved from production stations back into the camps.

The forestry department, which falls under the Ministry of National Resources and Environmental Conservation, will take control of all restricted forest reserves in the Bago Range throughout the 10-year logging ban.

The ministry plans to replant trees, protect existing forests, and prevent illegal logging. Nearby villages will be required to undergo educational initiatives in order to prevent deforestation.