Final report for Darwin Initiative-funded project

In 2017 Elephant Family began a new programme of conservation work in Myanmar, funded by the Darwin Initiative and created in partnership with three other organisations: the Wildlife Conservation Society Myanmar, Compass Films and Grow Back for Posterity.

The goal was to protect vital biodiversity in Myanmar, support community land-use planning in a changing political landscape and prevent human-elephant conflict in remote forest communities.

The project came to a successful conclusion earlier this year, with expectations exceeded despite barriers presented by global circumstances. A collaborative project report detailing the achievements and learnings of the team over the past three years was recently submitted to the Darwin Initiative.

Partners & funders

  • The UK Government-backed Darwin Initiative gave £300k to the joint programme proposal created by Elephant Family and partners. Other funding for the work was committed by the lead partners and local and international NGOs.
  • WCS Myanmar have been operating since 1993. They were the first international organisation to initiate a long-term program in the country and ever since, they have been conducting biological surveys, monitoring populations of key wildlife species, aiding in the establishment of protected areas, and assisting protected area staff with training on landscape management.
  • Grow Back for Posterity Myanmar is a non-profit organisation working to collaborate with local communities, government, national and international CSOs, and other stakeholders in order to protect Myanmar’s natural and cultural heritage. It uses adaptive conservation strategies based on exact science.
  • Compass Films is an independent documentary film production company. Founded in 1997 by two photographers Klaus Reisinger and Frederique Lengaigne, they work as a close-knit team focusing on the complex relationships between humans, animals and nature.

The problem

Over 70% of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas and depend on natural resources to live, putting enormous pressure on forest landscapes to support thousands of rural communities. This issue was exacerbated by the arrival of some 160,000 refugees returning to Myanmar from Thailand, who were expected to settle within the roaming areas of elephants, thereby increasing incidences of human-elephant conflict (HEC).

With a lack of land-use planning in place, the resulting deforestation became the primary cause of habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and species decline, including wild elephants whose numbers reduced from 10,000 in the 1960s to under 2,000 by 2004. The demands on limited space also brought of humans and wildlife, into closer proximity, resulting in increased conflict situations.

 

Image captured at night using camera trap equipment

Our approach

Over the course of three years, this project aimed to achieve the following overall impact:

“Forest habitats in Myanmar are sustainably managed to increase ecosystem function, improve local livelihoods and minimise biodiversity-loss while preventing human-wildlife conflict and incorporating use of landscapes by wildlife.”

To achieve this Elephant Family and partners identified two main challenges to overcome:

  • The biodiversity challenge resulting from increased habitat fragmentation and human-elephant conflict
  • The poverty challenge resulting from increased forest loss and subsequent human-elephant conflict

Two components to the programme were therefore designed and implemented.

  • The land-use planning component aimed to work with communities in south-eastern Myanmar to map traditional forest-use zones and develop sustainable land-use plans with input from the communities
  • The educational component worked with schools and communities in every target area to raise awareness of elephant behaviour and needs, and ways to minimise dangerous interactions

Results

By implementing these complementary approaches, the project achieved the following successes:

  1. 5,400 families were empowered and became more knowledgeable about land use management processes
  2. Spatial plans completed and adopted were made available as examples and learning tools for other regions in Myanmar & other Asian countries
  3. Important areas of connected habitat for elephants and for biodiversity intactness were identified, as wereconflict hotspots in relevant villages, allowing HEC to be mitigated and avoided
  4. 40 village representatives were empowered in HEC mitigation, and awareness about HEC was created across 190 villages in five districts (Tanintharyi, Ayeyarwady, Yangon, Bago, Mandalay) leading to peaceful coexistence with elephants and much better mitigation of elephant encounters

Outcome

Through assessment of the 3-year project, we are delighted to be able to share the conclusion that:

“Land in Myanmar is managed sustainably and incorporates local knowledge and technical expertise, in five areas of high biodiversity and elephant conflict in Myanmar, anticipating human migration and serving as national examples.”

A conservation legacy

A number of developments were made throughout the duration of this project which will continue even now that it has come to an end. These include:

  • Participatory land-use planning developed by this project is now being implemented by the Forest Department
  • Containing settlement encroachment into forested areas using guidelines that are recognised and implemented by the government
  • Elephant data collection and subsequent human-elephant conflict preparedness will continue to expand
  • Official recognition for community forest has been granted and will extend under a new 30 year lease
  • The ‘Ridge to Reef’ grant has been introduced by the French Government to continue the community land-use planning activities done by this project and extend them to the coastal region
  • The sentence delivered for killing an elephant was raised from 7 to 10 years as a result of this project

In July, we were delighted to announce that Elephant Family had received further funding from the Darwin Initiative to implement a further programme of conservation work in Myanmar.