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Burmese junta welcomes 'white' elephant

( 13/08/2010 )

Elephant conservation news 7 - 13 August

A white elephant captured on behalf of the Burmese ruling junta has arrived in the country's capital this week amid lavish celebrations.

Quoting the Burmese Ahlin newspaper, the Associated Press reported that the 38-year-old female had been transported via boat and truck from jungle in the north-west area of Rakhine State to the capital, Naypyidaw, after being captured at the end of June.

Once in the remote capital, the elephant underwent a formal naming ceremony and was given the name Bhaddavati, meaning 'one who is endowed with goodness'.

She was welcomed by the top leaders of the military junta - who had ordered her capture due to the supposed mythical properties of such 'white' elephants - who sprinkled her with scented water during a ceremony at the Uppatasanti Pagoda.

The animals - which are white in name only, and generally have more of a pink colouring - are revered in south east Asian culture as being harbingers of good fortune and symbols of royalty. While there are said to be three other such elephants in captivity in Burma, junta leader General Than Shwe had never been in possession of one himself.

During the ceremony at the pagoda, Bhaddavati also marched in a parade encircling the structure, while religious sermons were said to have been recited in order to confer safety and health on the animal. She will live in an enclosure at the foot of the pagoda.

Speaking when news of the elephant's capture first broke, Chris Wright, senior programmes officer for the Born Free Foundation, spoke of his dismay at the capture for "superstitious purposes".

"This poor individual's unnecessary removal from its natural habitat is worrying not only for the significant negative welfare impacts it will suffer no longer with space to roam or the freedom to maintain its strong life-long familial bonds but it is particularly worrying given that the species is classified as endangered," he told elephant.co.uk.

Laos 'to export' a third of its elephants to the circus

Conservationists are warning that a significant proportion of young domesticated elephants in Laos are set to be exported to a circus in China.

Despite being known traditionally as the 'land of a million elephants', there are only 20 domesticated animals under the age of ten left in the country, the Guardian newspaper is highlighting.

It says that an agreement is in place which would take seven of this number - along with four older animals of breeding age - to southern China in the autumn. This is being done, conservationists say, due to a loophole in the CITES agreement against trading endangered animals, allowing "long-term loans".

Despite signing up for the CITES agreement in 2004, the Guardian says, Laos is exploiting the loophole to effectively export animals which are never repatriated. With numbers dwindling to a little over a thousand animals, the future of the elephant in the country is said to rest on breeding programmes involving the domesticated population.

Sebastien Duffillot, co-founder of ElefantAsia, a non-profit organisation which works predominantly in Laos to protect the Asian elephant, told the paper of his sadness to see young animals being exported.

"The best and healthiest animals have been leaving the country steadily for several years despite existing laws condemning the export of live elephants," he added.

 

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