Throughout Asia elephants were both sacred and workers. Sacred ones live as sculptural edifices in temples, while worker ones toil in forests. In Myanmar, as in all Asian elephant countries, the latter are discarded when forestry ceases or modern machines are employed.
Throughout, elephant camps and sanctuaries have been created to rescue abandoned elephants and to provide as close as possible a natural habitat for them. Success varies. Nat Pauk Elephant Camp at Katha, north of Mandalay is a success. Only 21 elephants from two to 58 years of age reside here and have over 15,000 ha to roam in. They spend the morning at the camp where they are bathed, health checked, interact with visitors (of which there are few). In the afternoon, they wander into the forest to roam as a family unit.
A second camp has 10 elephants, while there are about 3,500 protected elephants nationwide.
What was attractive about Nat Pauk was the freedom the elephants enjoyed. They were not corralled or tethered and humans were free to feed, pat and interact. Indeed the interaction was gentle and as playful as being with cats or dogs. Children of about four years old were confident to be near them, feed them and pat them, an extremely wonderful experience if we are to have future generations responsible for their protection and conservancy.