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On 20th April Aung Myo Chit, Myanmar Country Coordinator at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), received a call from the Myanmar Timber Enterprise.
In the region of Tanintharyi, in southeastern Myanmar, local villagers had spotted a wild elephant trapped in a snare, slowly dying.
It was the second time Aung Myo Chit got such a phone call. He had not been able to locate the elephant the first time, leaving it trapped in the vast forests of Tanintharyi. He had felt powerless.
But this time was different. The villagers who reported the trapped elephant had spotted something else: that the wild elephant had a collar.
This elephant had been collared with a GPS as part of a joint elephant collaring programme by the SCBI and WWF-Myanmar. This programme aims to track and monitor wild elephants’ movements in order to mitigate human-elephant conflicts and better allocate anti-poaching resources.
“We urgently need to know how elephants are using the forest, where are they, at what given time, what do they do. If we don’t know where they are, we won’t be able to protect them, ” says Christy Williams, WWF-Myanmar's Country Director.
Thanks to the collar, the elephant was located. A team of trackers and a vet was sent but when the team arrived, the wound was so deep that the vet, Dr Zaw, couldn’t tend to it alone. Two more vets were sent for.
The team finally managed to free the elephant and heal his injuries. He remained weak for days but eventually fully recovered. The team kept tracking his movements through the GPS collar.
Although this story has a happy ending, it highlights the development of a worrying new trend in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region: the use of snares to catch wildlife. While this technique is widespread in other parts of the country, the Tanintharyi had until now been spared. More action is needed to prevent this deadly practise spreading throughout this region, which is home to many of Myanmar’s precious endangered species including tigers, bears and many other cats.
The elephant collaring programme showed its value. Without it, Myanmar would have lost one more of its wild elephants. With the trade in elephant skin booming in Myanmar and neighbouring countries, it is crucial that we are able to continue this programme, collaring and protecting more and more elephants.
Watch our video to follow our team on their elephant rescue mission.
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