An elephant sanctuary in the Rakhine Yoma

  • By Nyi Tu
  • Sin copy

By the time our powered schooner got to the sentry post of the Sanctuary adjacent to the Kyaintali Creek, we began to breathe in fresh smells from the forest. We saw several huts in the sentry post not far away from the edge of the creek. Surrounded by thick jungles and high mountains, the Yadanmyaing village is 33 miles away from Gwa township and we proceeded to the edge of the sentry post for 13 miles bt powered schooner along the creek.
The location of the sentry post is more than 10 miles from the nearest village and is situated near the boundary of the Sanctuary. Named as the Kyainkhakhon post, it is one of the three sentry posts in Rakhine Yoma elephant sanctuary. It is built along the Kyaintali Creek for easy accessibility to the Rakhine Yoma Sanctuary.

Importance of locality
As the creek streams along the whole south side of the Sanctuary, the sentry post plays an important role in preventing the danger of collapse of the creek edges. Other two important sentry posts are the Bogale and Kyachaung posts. The three sentry posts protect all wild animals including other wild animals roaming about in this sanctuary.
This sanctuary is the first of its kind in Myanmar, according to administrator U San Win of the Rakhine Yoma Sanctuary. “ We just want to let the public know this sanctuary is very important for wild elephants. If we cannot control the situation, the wild elephants in the Rakhine Yoma will be threatened with extinction. This sanctuary is also important for wild animals of rare species. Rich grazing for wild animals There are many rare animal species in this sanctuary: 40 kinds of mammals including rare Myanmar wild elephants, tigers and bison , 63 kinds of amphibians and reptiles, 26 kinds of butterflies, 28 kinds of freshwater fish and 12 kinds of insects. Naturally-grown trees of 75 kinds include ironwood trees and large timber trees, 11 kinds of orchids, 9 kinds of bamboo, four kinds of cane and 47 kinds of medicinal plants, according to some records.
The Rakhine Yoma elephant sanctuary is ecologically evergreen environment which is covered by 70% of the bamboo forest. On east side of the Sanctuary borders townships of Kyankin, Myanaung, Ingapu and Laymyetnar and on the south with Gwa township and on the north side with Thandwe township. In 1997 the sanctuary was set aside for wild elephants and legalized in 2002. The area of this sanctuary is over 430,000 acres wide.

While we stayed at the Kyainkhakhon post, we went into thick forest for about eight miles along the Kyaintali Creek. Our three schooners faced strong torrents and sometimes we had to wade through the shallow water. Along the way we went across several small streams with their respective background information on their names.
The location of Rakhine Yoma elephant sanctuary is among the high mountains: narrow creeks and small streams with big blocks of rock in between. The sanctuary is hard to reach on foot but through narrow creeks and small streams.

An atmosphere of serenity
Pointing at high mountains and a grove of bamboo , U Saw Htoo Tha Po, the keeper at the Yoma elephant sanctuary said the atmosphere of serenity still remains intact: rich pasture for wild elephants naturally and geographically; a place of no threat for wild animals; an area specifically demarcated for the sanctuary; no deforestation; and ecological systems have not dramatically changed.
U Saw Htoo Tha Po, senior coordinator at Wildlife Sanctuary(Myanmar Program), gets deeply involved in the protection of wild elephants and related research. Our 15-member group found the footprints and faeces of wild animals on the way and picked them up for putting on record and doing research. About a hundred of wild elephants are believed by authorities to be roaming about in this sanctuary. This number is inconsistent with scientific way of counting. U Saw Htoo Tha Po explained that scientific research is required to count wild elephants.

Making a list
He has been trying hard to know in coming years to locate where wild elephants graze in the Sanctuary. After knowing the location of grazing ground, the number of wild elephants should be put on record by doing research. Many small groups will have to cover the sanctuary of 400,000 acres within a fortnight by doing research five times during a period of three months. Collecting data get involved in using DNA analysis of their faeces to distinguish between individual animals. The faeces must be sent abroad for further analysis which will cost much. For the time being as they are focusing on the protection of wild animals, the above analyses could be carried out within a period of several years, U Saw Htoo Tha Po pointed out.
Rare species such as elephants, bison, and birds roaming about in this Sanctuary have been under threat by poachers, according to Sanctuary administrator U San Win. Wild elephants are being killed by poachers in the forest reserves of Gwa and Taungnyo adjoining the Sanctuary. “ Hunters from the townships of Kyankhin, Myanaung, Ingapu, and Laymyetnar in Ayeyawady region are found to have invaded to hunt wild animals and poison fish; hunting causes a lot of problems in the region,” according to U San Win.

Beyond control
According to the set-up of the Sanctuary, there are 81 employees; but there currently 25 with 15 going out on patrol. Due to lack of public service personnel, we find it difficult to go on with present
workforce, he continued. With support from Wildlife Sanctuary( Myanmar Program), the employees keep patrolling together with newly-recruited local employees Wild animals are being protected in cooperation with Myanmar program. The number of rangers are 25 only; they are divided into three groups with each group including eight rangers. They have to patrol the whole area for 20 days only. Sometimes these rangers happen to confront with 20 or so hunters armed with bayonets, guns and a herd of hunting dogs and they have to retreat.

Revelation of evidences
When rangers are on patrol, they sometimes find and seize racks, huts and percussion lock firearms from the hunters. Bison’s flesh is found selling in a village near the Sanctuary, it is tantamount to the kill of hunters, employees say. To solve the problems , recruitment of more employees, the extension of more sentry posts, educating local populace and joint patrol with police force are essential elements for effective actions. Rangers on patrol are required to be armed, some advised.
The sanctuary under threat While wild elephants in the Rakhine Yoma Sanctuary are now under threat, a wild elephant is being killed every week across the country, say the keepers for Myanmar Wild Elephants. According to the Forest Department ,140 elephants were killed by poachers from 2010 to 2017. “Even though the Rakhine Yoma Sanctuary is under threat, proper maintenance of the Sanctuary will be beneficial for nature-based tourism. It will pay the way for studying the local fauna and flora; it will also create job opportunities for local populace,” the sanctuary administrator U San Win pointed out.
“As this Sanctuary is a natural habitat for wild elephants, conservation of this wide area is urgently needed” said U Saw Htoo Tha Po, who has been doing research on wild elephants in Rakhine Yoma.

Translated by Arakan Sein

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