The work of Khyne U Mar, otherwise known as the ‘Elephant Lady’, has been extremely influential in both national and international environmental conservation. Since using her Prospect Burma scholarship to undertake her PhD, Khyne U Mar has contributed an incredible amount to Myanmar.

Elephants, Education and Environment.

khyneA majority of Prospect Burma (PB) grants are offered to fund the first degrees of undergraduate students, however we also value the importance of postgraduate study in order for experts to further their research and make significant contributions to a specific field. In 2002 Khyne U Mar, otherwise affectionately known as the ‘Elephant Lady’, applied for a PB scholarship to further her conservation and zoological studies. She used her grant to supplement a PhD in Myanmar elephant demography at the University College, London. Here she was able to work with other specialists and vast resources to expand her knowledge and way of thinking.

Khyne U Mar’s internationally respected preservation work is considered to be ‘material to the very survival of the Asian elephant’. The use of elephants for forest preservation is known to be more economically and environmentally sustainable and she is passionate about reintroducing them in replacement of mechanised vehicles. She believes elephants show a promising future for preservation because unlike trucks, they do not need fuel to run or roads to drive on therefore having minimal impact on the landscape.

In regards to elephant care, she recognised the value of traditional forest medicine particularly while working with an ethnic minority group. The Kachin people were using leaves from the forest to treat elephants, with results matching those that would come with expensive antibiotics. By recognising the value of traditional methods of animal welfare she has highlighted all we can learn from minorities and how their unique knowledge can benefit Myanmar.

Fast forward to 2016 and Khyne U Mar has been working as a post-doctorate research associate at the department of animal and plant sciences in the University of Sheffield for the past seven years. Whilst she remains working in England, she is maintaining the links between the UK and Asia which are vital for elephant conservation and care. During this time she has been compiling a demographic database of Myanmar’s timber elephants. Along with her extensive thirty years of experience in academic, research and administrative positions, she has been the star of documentaries such as ‘Of Oozies and Elephants’ and ‘Wild Burma: Nature’s Lost Kingdom’.

In addition to these achievements is also one of the principle research staff for the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) ‘Myanmar Timber Elephant Project’. According to the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project website: “Myanmar exports 75% of the world’s teak, and the UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) estimates that 50-60% of the country’s 60 million people depend on forestry for their basic needs. Despite increasing mechanisation, half of the Myanmar timber is extracted by using trained elephants, particularly in the mountainous areas, because access by vehicles is difficult and such selective logging is more sustainable. Unfortunately, although at least half of the timber elephants are captive-born, more elephants must be captured from the wild to maintain the workforce. This could result in wild elephants in Myanmar becoming extinct by the end of this century.”

The international NGO aims to optimise the balance between working ability, survival, and fertility to create a self-sustaining working population of elephants. The organisation’s work goes beyond environmental sustainability. In 2012 they donated library materials and equipment to the Veterinary Faculty at the Yezin University, which was instrumental in encouraging education and student participation in elephant projects. Khyne U Mar is an inspiring example of how education can help the people of Myanmar to blossom, and the potential this brings to other South East Asian nations in their development.

Click here to find out more about Khyne U Mar and the work of her organisation.