Since 2001, scientists from the Smithsonian's National Zoo have been working on a cooperative project with Myanmar's Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division of the Forest Department. The project focuses on the conservation and management of elephant populations in Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park (AKNP) and Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary (HWS) in Myanmar. These parks lie within the country's once-extensive elephant range.
Project staff monitored elephant populations throughout the two areas, conducted attitude surveys of 69 villages in the surrounding areas, and assessed community needs. Radio-tracking of a female elephant, collared with a satellite-GPS transmitter, generated information on habitat use in AKNP over an 18-month period (see Tracking Silver Moon).
As a result of these efforts, an elephant management plan was developed based on the efforts of more than 75 people, including staff of the Forest Department, Myanmar Timber Enterprise, local schoolteachers, Smithsonian scientists, and private citizens. Its main goal is to:
"Re-establish viable populations of wild elephants at AKNP and HWS within the next ten years and make AKNP and HWS models for managing wild elephants in Myanmar and other range countries in Southeast Asia."
Results from the elephant surveys indicate populations are declining, and are highly vulnerable to local extinction (see Surveying Elephants Through Dung Counts). The primary threats to elephants are organized poaching for ivory and meat and live capture for domestic use. Secondary threats to elephants are indirect and include disturbance and modifications to habitat. These threats result from extraction of forest products, road development, mining, and activities such as poison fishing, which is also often carried out by non-locals for commercial purposes. Frequently, it is non-residents who ply the region for economic gain and carry out extraction activities in the parks.
Curbing primary and secondary threats will require expansion of the protected areas and their buffer zones, increased law enforcement in the park, stronger regional controls through CITES enforcement, and close work with local communities.
The management plan addresses both biological and park management issues necessary for the conservation of elephants, and treats several topics covered in traditional park management plans. The recommendations to the Forest Department deal with general park management, law enforcement, community relations, small-population and genetic management, habitat conservation, population monitoring, and ways and means of supporting expanded and future park activities.