Former logging elephants, as well as orphaned or injured animals, will be rehabilitated at the new facility to be called Elephants Lake.
Four Paws said export bans and logging restrictions in Myanmar had rendered “jobless” about 1000 elephants, which had been working in the teak industry.
For decades, the abused animals have been wandering with lumberjacks through Myanmar’s forests to assist with felling and to carry heavy tree trunks.
To prevent the now unemployed animals from being killed or having to endure being tourist attractions, Four Paws has started the construction of the sanctuary.
In the 17-000 hectare facility in the Bago Region, vets and experts will rehabilitate the elephants and prepare them for a life of freedom.
Construction began at the start of this month, and the first animals are expected to move into the elephant sanctuary by the end of this year.
Four Paws vet and head of the pilot project Dr Amir Khalil said: “For their owners, the elephants are now useless and on top of that a financial burden. The animals are therefore either killed or sold to the tourism industry.
“Unfortunately, elephant riding is still a fun holiday activity for a lot of people. These magnificent, endangered animals do not deserve death or an equally cruel career change.”
At the sanctuary, the animals could recover from the exertions of their past and, ideally, be reintroduced to the wild, Khalil said.
The population of Asian elephants, the second largest land animal in the world, has more than halved in recent decades, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
There are only 2000 wild elephants left in Myanmar.
Four Paws said the sanctuary aimed to bring together new prides and subsequently release the animals into the adjacent North Zar Ma Yi Forest Reserve.
If this is not possible any more, the elephants can stay in the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry provided the land, while state-owned forestry organisation Myanmar Timber Enterprise will place the elephants.
Four Paws president and founder Heli Dungler said: “Our elephant sanctuary is a pioneer project in terms of conservation of animals and forests. In the long term, together with our local partners, we hope to create new, higher standards for animal welfare and eco-friendly tourism.
Depending on the rainy season, we aim to move in the first five to six elephants in late 2018. Over the next 10 years, up to 300 elephants are planned to be rehabilitated at Elephants Lake.”
According to Four Paws South Africa director Fiona Miles, latest estimates show that we have over 120 elephants held in captivity at facilities around the country.
“These animals are utilised for a variety of entertainment activities, such as elephant back safari’s and circuses.
Despite growing pressure only a few of these facilities has shown any willingness to cease these activities.
“The animals are continually subjected to brutal training methods and kept in enclosed areas completely foreign to their natural habitat.
“Added to this is increasing instances of poaching and human encroachment on traditional territory all pointing to a species under growing threat We need to act now to protect our elephant populations from exploitation,” she said.
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