CHIANG RAI – The state-run Myanmar Timber Enterprise employed 3,000 captive elephants to move natural resources out of the rain forest. This makes it the largest population of captive Asian elephants in the world.
However, since 2014, a ban on exporting raw materials left these elephants without a purpose and, crucially, without proper care. They became vulnerable to unethical tourism companies and poachers.
Fortunately, help has finally come, with elephants being relocated to sanctuaries around Southeast Asia. One of the biggest is located in Chiang Rai. This is good news not just for the elephants, but for Chiang Rai’s tourism industry. The region can hope to become world leaders in ethical elephant tourism.
The Importance of Responsible Sanctuaries
Elephants put to work by the government are fully domesticated, which puts them at risk when released back into the wild. They are unaccustomed to threats and can be easily targeted by poachers. Exact poaching numbers are hard to acquire, but when 19 were fitted with GPS trackers, seven of these had been poached within a year.
Myanmar has the largest population of elephants other than India. A border with China more than 2,000 km long means there are many remote areas that are difficult for the government to control. Chinese ivory hunters have it too easy.
A sanctuary in Chiang Rai would remove elephants from dangerous areas and provide them with both freedom and security.
Elephant tourism has a bad reputation, with many being kept in cruel conditions and forced to dance for food. However, ethical tourism allows for the funding which keeps these incredible animals safe. Travelers fly many miles to get a glimpse at one of nature’s most beautiful and endearing creations.
By allowing visitors to spend time with the elephants, Chiang Rai’s economy could boom. While an elephant tusk sells for $21,000, a single elephant brings in $1.6 million revenue from ecotourism. This makes a live elephant worth 76 times more than a dead one.
The new sanctuary in Chiang Rai is a win for everyone. The local community will benefit from increased tourism to the area, without any of the guilt that elephants are being exploited. It is essential to get domesticated elephants out of the uncontrolled wild of Myanmar and into sanctuaries where they will be cared for and kept safe.