Integrating biodiversity and elephants into peace and development


Why this project was important

Due to peace in Myanmar and reduced military conflict, development activities such as dams, reservoirs, commercial agriculture and the migration of new farming communities into forests are increasing habitat loss. Habitats are also fragmented due to inadequate land-use planning. 

An estimated 160,000 refugees in Thailand may also resettle in southern central Myanmar, where there with no historical knowledge of coexistence with elephants. A rapid escalation in the number and intensity of conflicts risked leaving farmers feeling vulnerable and increasingly hostile towards elephants, with more human and elephant deaths. 

Myanmar is currently revising its land-use policy which warrants input from the field level to ensure that participatory approaches at the community level are compatible the approaches proposed by the government. Without this, deforestation will continue, livelihoods will be impacted and a chance to support the protection of Myanmar’s forests and wildlife in the south, enable well-informed laws benefitting local land-users and provide working landscape examples, will be lost. 

Project Partners: Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Grow Back for Posterity, Compass Films

Project Duration: April 2017 – March 2020

Elephant population of Myanmar: c.2,000

Project goals

Communities agree and map how they want to preserve and use their forest and farmland and learn how to live alongside elephants and other wildlife in five key regions in Myanmar. 

What we did

Over three years, Elephant Family aimed to reach over 12,300 families, protect Myanmar’s biodiversity, support ethnic peace and prevent human-elephant conflict. 

Land mapping, planning processes and human-elephant coexistence measures were introduced to 40 villages in Tanintharyi area (Laynyar township) and were made available to 5,400 families living in high biodiversity areas covering 11,300 km2. Human-elephant conflict awareness tools were delivered across an additional four areas (150 villages) in south-central areas of Sagaing, Ayeywarwady, Bago and Mandalay which were experiencing high human-elephant conflict. The project brought relief to vulnerable groups and tested the tools and impact under especially difficult situations 

Land mapping was carried out using a participatory approach, led by local elders with woman and men providing knowledge of wildlife. They mapped out the current land-use zones and defined and agreed zone rules. 

For much of the rural population of Myanmar who may be new farmers, elephants are a source of fear and animosity. Knowledge changes the perception farmers have of elephants lessening fear and providing understanding and helps empower villagers to better understand elephant behaviour and biology. “H.EL.P.” (Human Elephant Peace) kits include 12 educational videos, booklets and games related to human-elephant conflict. These kits reached 32,000 students and villagers every year of this project, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to coexist peacefully with elephants. 

The H.EL.P. educational film, distributed on DVD and broadcast repeatedly on TV, was the single most effective communications tool to reach the hearts and minds of villagers and farmers across Myanmar. While in developed countries TV has lost its appeal, in Myanmar, where free media and broadcast is still new, educational films are the ideal medium to reach out to the rural communities. 

This project was funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative.