Analysing Asian elephant life histories has multiple impacts in Burma

This project is excellent because it makes life better for the elephants as well as having an impact scientifically and practically – for example, my results have led to the authorities considering changing training methods. As our work depends on this endangered species I have a responsibility to be an advocate for them, and this project means I can unite conservation biology with practical improvements for industry.

Dr Hannah Mumby, Animal and Plant Sciences

Endangered Asian elephants are central to Burmese culture and economy, with around 4000 semi-captive elephants working in the timber industry. The use of elephants reduces negative environmental impacts of logging, since access can be gained without the building of roads and destruction of forests. 

Support and cooperation from the Burmese government and funding from NERC has allowed researchers access to an extensive set of information about the lifecycles of 5 generations of these working elephants (9000 individuals), including when they were born, reproduction, illnesses, working hours and causes of death.

Examined alongside climatic records obtained from the government, this information has revealed patterns of higher mortality in hot and dry months, but also higher reproductive rates possibly linked with lower work demands.

The knowledge gained has enabled Dr Hannah Mumby to advise the government on ideal weaning and training ages, how to improve working conditions, reduce stress on the elephants and increase breeding rates. Along with training sessions for local vets and workshops from experts, the hope is that this will help to maintain a sustainable captive population, eliminating the need for further wild elephant capture and contributing to the conservation of this endangered species.

This project has far-reaching impacts, not only improving the lives of the elephants but also the productivity of the local economy.