Aung Thaung is 25 years old and has worked as a logger for about 10 years. His elephant´s name is Pale Aung, which in english means "Pearl Victory".
According to Dr. Khyne U Mar, who has done research on timber elephants in 20 years, the timber elephants have a healthy life. Compared to other elephants in captivity the reproduction is significantly higher. Timber elephants are active, they have a good diet and they get the care and recovery they need.
Nevertheless more and more camps for retired timber elephants occurs. For elephants suffering from stress, anxiety or external physical damage. The government, who owns all of the elephants, have been skeptical and scared that the healthy would be sent to such camps. But currently its only four elephants who need extra care.
The villagers of Bago Yoma was in February terrified after dark. The wild elephants killed three people in the mating season. Since the tamed female elephants are walking around free at night they draw the wild males near the houses and puts their families in danger.
Thai Than Tun is driven by the commands and the fear of a lash. She stops, cools her self down and roars. One foot in front of the other, four tons muscles pulls to her trunk and forehead is in the ground. Three feet forward and she roars again. Her skin stretches when the chain is tightened. Thai Than Tun is an timberelephant, her job is to pull teak, also known as iron wood. It’s noon and the heat is unbearable.
The work is delayed, resulting in an extra intense work session. By a stream she sneaks up some water is detected and gets strict orders to pull on. A few drops she saves for a cooling shower on top of the hill.
The elephant Thai Than Tun lives in the mountains Bago Yoma with her “oozie” (elephant handler), his family and their little community with forty people and seven elephants. They share the water running past their camp, they eat together and the take their break together. The elephant belongs to its oozie, his family and a house. She has a chain around her ankles and a wire to her ear. She can easily break free, but she is trained to stand there willingly. The elephant and the oozie are each other benefactors.
The elephants must eat about 4000 pounds of food a day. Almost everything during night, when the can walk around free in the forests. Even though they are free they have the chain around their legs, so that the step length becomes shorter. Every morning the oozies goes out and get them, whether they will work that day or not. The oozie recognize its own elephant’s footprint and the sound of the bamboo bell it wears around its neck.
Thai Than Tun is only 14 years old and still in school. If she stays healthy and strong she can work until she is over 60. She is owned by the government, Myanmar Timber Enterprise, and it is logged when she was born, whom she belongs, where she works, any offspring, injuries, accidents and treatments. She is part of the world’s largest population of Asian working elephants, about 2800.
But the country´s forest is decreasing, it´s soon just 30 percent left of its original rain and mountain forest. The workload is already reduced. Environment, future and sustainable development has entered the field. From April this year, it was forbidden to export raw material of teak. The men also live by illegal charcoal production. The government know what’s going on, but they also know that the forest workers have nothing else to live on. Oozie Myo Tun is 24 years old, he can not picture a different future, this is his field. What will happen to the small community and their dedicated timber elephants? Will they be set free in a continuously shrinking habitat? Or smuggled to Thailand as a tourist elephants?
by Marte Stensland Jørgensen