Myanmar is home to the second largest population of Asian Elephants. The number of wild elephants in Burma/Myanmar has dropped dramatically over the past 50 years and continues to be in decline. Elephants have been useful as draught animals, so-called beasts of burden, for timber extraction. Now that heavy machineries have more or less replaced elephants, doing most of the job for them, elephants have been relegated to old elephant camps where timber industry still relies on them – due either to remote locations or more viable cost of operation. Where they exist, elephant camps still evoke nostalgic memories of a bygone era.
To promote humane treatment of elephants and also to earn a little extra income, Myanmar government decided to open elephant camps around the country for retired and old elephants, too old to work for Timber Industry. With more and more people showing interest in eco-tourism, elephant camps are becoming popular with local and foreign tourists. These pachyderms, living proof of the wonder of nature, never fail to inspire the visitors to appreciate nature and harbor a desire to preserve what we still have.
Activities at elephant camps include getting to know the elephants, feeding several of the giants, and learning about their history. Have you ever washed an elephant? If you have not, this is just the best time to get the time-honoured experience. Enjoy a dip in the river with your giant friends.
Myaing Hay Wun, a pioneer of such camps, is the very first elephant camp in Myanmar occupying an area of 10 acres. It was established in 1986, located in Pa- Lon Village of Taikkyi Township, not far from Yangon, the largest population centre in Myanmar, taking only 1.5 hours drive to get to the camp. Visitors can have the added bonus of watching and discovering a wide range of wildlife in and around the camp. If you are a birder, Myaing Hay Wun is just the place for you. Treat yourself to the sights of colourful birds, natural plants, butterflies, insects, moths, lizard, snakes and other wild animals- all this, just one and a half mile from the commercial city.
Another promising place to look out for is Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp in Magway village, Kalaw, Shan State. It is one of the most famous elephant camps in Myanmar. Nature lovers would never say ‘no’ to a trekking trip in Kalaw, a destination popular for its mostly pristine environs and adventure trekking activities. Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp was founded in 2011 by a family with experience of working with elephants in the Myanmar Timber Enterprise. It was established with the purpose of sharing information on life and work of elephants, to have better understanding and value them as a part of nature. Elephants have been put to work almost their entire life spans and now it is their masters/friends’ turn to take care of them during their sunset years. Such wonders of nature, never failing to create awe and admiration in the visitors – there are few other ways to get close to nature and befriend with the gentle giants. How about babysitting the giants in the small space of time you can fit into your trip? Do them a good turn for their faithful service to the humankind, building greatest civilisations in the past.
A visit to Green Hill Valley will fulfill your dream for environmental conservation and contribute to some measure to its sustainability. The camp is implementing an environmental preservation project and actively engaged in a reforestation program.
Another elephant camp worth a visit is Hmaw Yaw Gyi, situated in Kyauk Tagar Township, Bago Region at the edge of the famous Bago Yoma. It is possible to go on a day trip there since it can be reached in just 2 hour drive from Yangon. The camp’s significance lies in its opening on World Elephant’s Day, 12 August 2016, taking note of the need to appreciate elephants as nature’s gifts and protect them accordingly. Bago region is home to four major of elephant camps, three other still operational for timber extraction, and Hmaw Yaw Gyi has been chosen as a tourist destination. Approximately 1600 acres in area, bamboo huts dot the landscape. With woodlands and flowing streams, the camp has a picture postcard quality for ideal photo shoots celebrating nature and its picturesque mien. Have memorable safaris across or along streams and waterfalls to get close to the heart of human’s relation with the pachyderms, nature’s wonders. The trip may be imprinted in your memory for years, but your elephants – you know about elephant’s memory – will remember it throughout its lifetime which is a long, long time.
For the inquisitive, you can bombard the guide with any number of questions and he/she will patiently provide answers to all your questions. Elephant camps in some other nations allow visitors to go on elephant rides, but to prevent animal abuse and due to safety concerns, no such things will be permitted in Myanmar. But do feel like a Royalty on foot – walking alongside the majestic creatures, minus the pomp, and those lovely creatures will certainly make you feel special. Instead of riding Their Majesties, visitors can help bathe them, feed them (Oops! Offer delicacies to His/Her Majesty.) and pass a pleasant afternoon with them.
You have a wide-open choice of 18 elephant camps to visit in Myanmar and all the camps are operated by Myanmar Timber Enterprise under the Ministry of National Resources and Environmental Conservation Department.