Widespread deforestation in the past 8 years due to logging, infrastructure development and clearance for crops left the elephants homeless and unable to forage for food in their regular habitats. This forced them to invade human villages to forage for food in human homes.
U Sein Than, a local farmer, says, “The elephants run into the houses when they are looking for food. If you go near to them, they will chase you. Even if you run in a zig-zag, the elephants will always stamp on you.”
When the elephants come, the locals run up ladders to their tree houses. Their children sleep every night in tree houses. The villagers say 40 people have died in the area as a result of the elephants in the last eight years. Two nearby villages have been abandoned because of the problem.
U Sein Than, 50, said, “My farming business is like a lottery. If I cultivate 100 per cent of the rice, I will only get 30 per cent of it because of the elephants.”
Last year, the UN said Burma has the third worst rate of deforestation in the world, losing an area of forest around the size of Brunei every year.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government has pledged to tackle the issue, and imposed a year-long logging ban this summer.
But the villagers fear this could worsen their plight. At least 2,500 elephants are official employees of Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), the country’s logging firm, and many more probably work in the country’s huge illegal logging industry.
Dr Christy Williams, Myanmar director of the WWF, said: “The ban is very much needed, but just keeping these elephants, and their mahouts [human keepers] inactive is not going to work. How are 2,500 elephants going to be fed if they are not working?”