Elephants force villagers to head to the trees

A boy holding the rope to go up a tree house with a ladder in Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon.
A boy holding the rope to go up a tree house with a ladder in Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon.PHOTO: AFP
Villagers in Kyat Chuang scamper up home-made bamboo ladders to their elevated huts whenever they hear the thundering sound of elephant feet.
Villagers in Kyat Chuang scamper up home-made bamboo ladders to their elevated huts whenever they hear the thundering sound of elephant feet.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
People standing near a tree house in the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon.
People standing near a tree house in the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon. PHOTO: AFP
A man living in a tree house at the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon.
A man living in a tree house at the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon. PHOTO: AFP
A man resting in his house at the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon.
A man resting in his house at the Kyauk Ye village on the outskirts of Yangon. PHOTO: AFP

TAIK KYI • Pushed from their forest home by encroaching farmland, wild elephants are driving fearful villagers in a Myanmar township to seek refuge in tree houses while the animals storm their rice paddies looking for food.

The elephants have trampled crops, destroyed homes and even, villagers say, killed people in their path - forcing families in Kyat Chuang to build new shelters made of wood and bamboo on higher ground. "We have had to move our huts into the trees, so we are safe," explained Mr San Lwin, who dashes to his thatch-roofed shelter when the elephants are near.

Villagers in Kyat Chuang, a farming community 100km north of Yangon, said they yearned for the days before the elephant rampages started three years ago. Now they scamper up home-made bamboo ladders to their elevated huts whenever they hear the thundering sound of elephant feet, which is usually several times a week.

The elephants, and the villagers they have been terrorising, are some of the casualties of Myanmar's alarming rate of deforestation, one of the fastest in the region.

Myanmar's population of wild Asian elephants is thought to be one of the largest in the region, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But the endangered species is increasingly threatened by habitat loss, a thirst for ivory, and traffickers who smuggle the animals into Thailand for the tourism industry.

Myanmar lost almost 20 per cent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Experts say the chief drivers of forest loss are logging and large-scale land concessions for commercial agriculture handed out under decades of opaque junta rule.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'Elephants force villagers to head to the trees'. Print Edition | Subscribe