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Drones for Asian Elephants in the Wild

April 26, 2018


Our friend John Roberts, Director of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, contacted the author some time back and asked if The Elephant Story would consider underwriting a drone program in the Karen State, Myanmar and Thailand Western Forest Complex. The program was designed by a friend of John's, Adam Oswell, of the Wildlife 1 Organization. John indicated that the program required approval of the Karen National Union and the Karen Forestry Department. The Karen people have been engaged in the longest running guerrilla war in history between the Karen National Liberation Army and the Government of Myanmar. I was intrigued by the idea and told John that I actually spent time in Karen remote villages many years ago to which he said he was not surprised. 

In any event, the program was approved and off it went. Adam's organization manages communications, training and logistics for the Karen Forest Department Wildlife Protection Units (WPU), training them in tactical patrol, SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrols, wildlife identification and conservation fundamentals, ethics and enforcement. They have successfully trained and deployed over one hundred rangers since 2013. 

The following images depict some of the steps of the training program. Physical fitness is the first step. 


Survival and rescue is obviously important in this remote region.


The ability to read maps and establish bearings is critical in the rain forest. Otherwise, you may be destined to remain there for the rest of your natural days, however short a period of time that may be.


The resultant ranger is the "real deal."


These rangers manage eight protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries under Karen control which connect directly to Thailand's World Heritage Western Forest Complex. Therefore, this complex represents one of Asia's largest and most viable natural habitats for elephants and tigers.


The area encompasses over 18,000 square kilometers representing one of the largest protected territories in Southeast Asia. It includes 19 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries including two World Heritage sites and 34 biodiversity hotspots. It supports diverse large mammal fauna including elephants, Indochinese tigers, Asian leopards, sun bears, ten species of primates, gaur, banteng, water buffalo, tapirs and all four of Thailand's five deer species. In total, 153 mammal species, 490 bird species, 41 reptile species and 108 species of fish inhabit this last great primary wilderness of Asia.

The benefit of having drone eyes from above is obvious as shown below.


Karen State, Myanmar lies within this hotspot and retains some of the best biodiversity remaining in Asia. It includes nine wildlife sanctuaries and designated protected areas. However, from a macro perspective it rests in a part of the world where there is an insatiable demand for wildlife and pressure from illegal logging as the black markets in Asia continue to flourish and expand. This particular setting has to be placed into the broader context of a country that is attempting to depart from a military dictatorship into a more normalized democracy. At best, it is challenged and fragile as we have seen from more visible Rohingya issues on the western side of the country.

Therefore, this situation is one of a few remaining "ground zero" situations where we can all make a difference. If you are so inclined, have a look at www.wildlife 1.org.




 These antique Burmese puppet heads mounted on stands were once part of elaborate Marionette shows. They told stories with music and dance. The puppet heads have been reclaimed from old, worn-out puppets that were discarded for newer versions.  Lucky for us, they now have a new life!
 
 
Female with pigtails
$175
Male with Red Headpiece
$125
           
Small Puppet with Gold Headpiece
$55
Large Male Puppet Head
$165
           
 





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