I was on a recent trip to Myanmar exploring opportunities to help protect their elephant population.
While there, I was honoured, as president of the Elephant Project, to meet with individuals from the highest levels of government down to the mahout who wake up every morning to the sight of one of the most majestic animals on this planet, the elephant.
At every level, the belief and desire to protect these iconic animals, those in the wild and those under the care of the government, was absolute. With all the struggles that Myanmar faces, as it writes the newest chapter in its quest to free itself from the ghosts of the past, the testament of who its citizens are as a people is defined in my mind by their steadfast commitment to all animals.
There is no greater example than their commitment to the continued care of the approximately 3,000 timber elephants and the roughly 10,000 Burmese who care for them every day. This is a situation that was created when these elephants and villagers became unemployed as the government chose to end the devastation of the country’s forests caused by excessive logging. Many governments, especially those faced with tremendous economic challenges like Myanmar, would have simply walked away from any commitment to continue to help these elephants and the people. But the government has made a commitment that the Elephant Project is working to help support.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. A country can claim to be a free and open society. However, it can hide the fallacy in that statement through the physical and emotional intimidation of its people, which I have seen in some self-declared democracies. But it is difficult to hide how animals are treated within their borders, not only in the wild, but those subject to government regulation.
This is why I believe that Myanmar is building the foundation of freedom and individual liberties, in words…