By Nirmal Ghosh
Myanmar's timber elephants and their handlers have survived wars and dictatorships, but will they survive democracy?
Each morning at the break of dawn, Zaw Win and his team herd their elephants across the sweeping forest floor down to the river bank. They scrub and clean the mighty mammals before harnessing them to begin their day's work. Zaw Win, a third-generation oozie [Burmese for elephant handler\ keeps a close eye on his animals which are his livelihood.
Decades of military dictatorship has meant many aspects of Myanmar are frozen in time. One of those traditions dates back thousands of years - the timber elephant.
Myanmar has around 5,000 elephants living in captivity - more than any other Asian country. More than half of them belong to a single government logging agency, the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE). Elephants are chosen over machines because they do the least damage to the forest.
These elephants have survived ancient wars, colonialism and World War II while hard woods extracted by elephants in Myanmar once fed the British naval fleet. Yet today, Myanmar's timber elephant is under threat.
Once the richest reservoir for biodiversity in Asia, Myanmar's forest cover is steadily depleting and the government blames it on illegal loggers.
Now, the forest policy is being overhauled.
The Ministry for Environmental Conservation and Forestry has pledged to reduce its logging by more than 80,000 tonnes this fiscal year. More....