|The Elephant Lady of Burma|
Most of the students Prospect Burma helps are undergraduates studying for their first degree at colleges in India and Thailand; we also support postgraduate students in Asia and at western universities. Very occasionally we have decided to make a grant to an exceptional mature student whose specialisation and research make a significant contribution in their field. In this article, written in 2003, one such student is Khyne U Mar, affectionately known as 'the Elephant Lady'. Her internationally respected work has been described as "material to the very survival of the Asian elephant".
She says that studying outside her own country has radically expanded her outlook. The freedom to work with other specialists and the resources available have given her "new ways of thinking", and an understanding of the power of research to change practical things for the better. Although she speaks eloquently of the huge amount she is getting from studying here, she is clearly longing to get back home and put that work into practice with her beloved elephants.
Khyne's work is directly concerned with the preservation of elephants, an endangered species, and the environment in Burma. She is passionate about the use of working elephants to preserve the forest and says that other South East Asian countries are beginning to come to her for advice about reintroducing them, having learnt to their cost that mechanisation, though faster, has much higher costs economically and environmentally. As she points out, elephants don't need roads through the forest, they run on 'green fuel' and of course unlike trucks, if properly cared for, they produce the next generation of workers. Until she left Burma to continue her research abroad, she was engaged in halting the decline in the working elephant population there: deaths were outnumbering births, and she found that 30% were dying before the age of five. This is absolutely critical to the teak industry, so important to Burma, where 80% of logging is elephant-powered.
On her return to Burma, Khyne plans to set up her own Non-Governmental Organisation to care for and research working elephants. There are 3,000 privately owned elephants in Burma, half the working population. She plans to set up and run a mobile clinic to care for them, and this will also give her the opportunity to do further research. Many of these elephants are in the hands of ethnic minority groups and she has the highest regard for their traditional methods of handling. She says there is much to be learnt from these methods, and cites some examples that startled her. On one occasion for instance she was astonished to see that a group of Karen were curing sick elephants with traditional medicine using leaves from the forest, and getting the same rate of success as she was with expensive antibiotics. And she is eager to learn more about Kachin methods of capturing, which result in a much longer lifespan than the modern methods using immobilisation drugs: when a Kachin handler claimed this she was sceptical but her own data analyis proved him absolutely right. This sort of knowledge is currently completely undocumented, and it is clear that Khyne's studies will ensure that it is recorded, researched and above all used for the good of the environment in Burma.
Khyne U Mar's work has largely been supported by a conservation foundation and, latterly, by a Japanese foundation, while Prospect Burma has provided a supplementary grant to help her with some of her subsistence and research costs. Khyne is a qualified vet, widely published in her subject, she is now at work on a PhD in Conservation Ecology from University College London. On her return to Burma she plans to set up a Non Governmental Organisation to research and care for the working elephant population in Burma.
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