Working Elephants; January 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Schmidt; 6 Page(s)
In the dense forests of Myanmar, men and elephants labor together to extract timber as they have done for more than 100 years. A gesture, a word, a shift in weight is all it takes for an "oozie" to direct his elephant to carry, push, pull or stack massive logs that elsewhere are manipulated by machines. If kept viable, the tradition can guarantee the survival not only of Asian elephants but also of the forests. If the tradition is lost, a magnificent species might become extinct, and some of the oldest natural forests in Asia could become monocultured tree farms.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the last country to use elephants extensively for logging. Just two decades ago Thailand had a vigorous population of 4,000 logging elephants. But the Thai forests were clear-cut instead of being harvested sustainably, and now many of the beasts are underemployed and malnourished. Only in Myanmar has a reverence for heritage allowed some of the largest tracts of forest on the earth to flourish unspoiled. A century-old policy of harvesting selected trees and transporting the logs by teams of men and elephants has kept vast sections of forest robust and highly productive.