Three elephant calves in Myanmar slated to be given as “gift” to Russian circus


The Asia for Animals Coalition has sent an appeal letter to the State Councillor and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar to voice our concerns surrounding the planned export of three Asian elephant calves from Myanmar to Russia as reported by the media.

The elephants are reportedly currently living in an environment in Myanmar where they have access to other elephants  and natural forested areas. If they remained there, they would grow up able to roam, find their own food sources, and freely interact and develop relationships with other captive elephants. Removing them from such unrestricted conditions and placing them with Durov Animal Theatre, a Moscow, Russia-based circus that incorporates several captive performing animals into its routines, is likely to have serious consequences for their individual welfare.

Two wild Asian elephants interacting in Bandipur National Park, India. Most elements of the lives of wild elephants like these are deprived of elephants in circuses. Image credit Poorna Kedar, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The elephants are being given to Russia as “gifts” from Myanmar, in a gesture symbolizing a positive relationship between the two countries. These three young elephants are not gifts or symbols, they are living beings with needs, emotions, and desires, none of which would be accommodated in a circus setting, where they will be forced to perform for the financial benefit of Durov Animal Theatre.

Elephants used in circuses are deprived of the ability to perform most natural behaviors. At all times, they are either confined, tethered, or forced into submission by a trainer using an ankus, or bullhook, a sharp metal implement that causes pain and leaves wounds in the elephants’ flesh. Most importantly, they are deprived of choice: choice of behavior, social encounters, activity, cognitive engagement, foraging, foods, resting times and places. In short, everything with which a free animal occupies him or herself all day is denied and replaced by human-mandated activities. The resulting combination of boredom, frustration and fear can cause severe mental and physical health issues, and it is well-documented to do so in performing elephants.

Elephants are forced to perform in a Ringling Bros. circus in the United States. Image credit Laura LaRose, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Furthermore, there are grave concerns regarding the impact an international relocation could have on the elephants’ welfare. The international travel would result in an enormous amount of stress, which could have serious and lasting repercussions on their physical and psychological well-being. Also of concern is the weather in Moscow, which reaches extreme cold temperatures for a large portion of the year, and is not something elephants are adapted to withstand.

We respectfully urge the authorities in Myanmar to intervene on the grounds of animal welfare, and kindly request that they consider revoking permission to export these three calves.

Read the entire letter from the Asia for Animals Coalition to Myanmar’s State Councillor and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs here.

Featured image: an elephant calf free to indulge her natural curiosity looks at birds. Image credit Emma Smith, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The Asia For Animals (AfA) Coalition is composed of 16 well-known and respected animal welfare organisations that have a shared focus on improving the welfare of animals in Asia. We are committed to providing support to organisations to help with their campaigns to tackle some of the most pressing animal welfare concerns in the region. Click to see author's profile.

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