Ai Weiwei and FOUR PAWS visit working elephants in Myanmar

Artist concerned about the animals’ future


Renowned artist Ai Weiwei has joined FOUR PAWS in a trip to Myanmar to highlight the uncertain future of working elephants in the country. Ai Weiwei expressed his serious concern for the elephants’ future after witnessing their plight first-hand.

In July, the Chinese artist, currently based in Berlin, visited several elephant camps with his team and FOUR PAWS animal welfare experts to get an idea of the elephants’ living conditions. It was a sad sight, with many elephants chained up and unable to live under natural conditions or move about freely.

“I am so sad to see that. Elephants are quite similar to human beings, they are intelligent and emotional creatures. Unfortunately, elephants have been placed in these conditions by humans. This is not right and not fair. Elephants deserve to live in freedom, but they have always been mistreated. If I could I would wish to release them immediately. They are born to be free and not captive like this.”

Ai Weiwei, artist

Almost 5,000 working elephants in Myanmar

Around 2,900 of the nearly 5,000 working elephants in Myanmar belong to state-owned enterprises; the rest are in private hands. For decades, the abused animals have been working for the state-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise. However, the ban on raw timber exports has rendered over 1,000 elephants 'jobless'. For their owners, the elephants are now considered useless and a financial burden. As a result, these animals are often abandoned, killed, or smuggled to neighbouring countries for tourism purposes. “Working elephants live in terrible conditions,” reports FOUR PAWS vet Dr. Amir Khalil, who accompanied Ai Weiwei during his trip.

“Elephants have been deprived of their natural habitat and are forced to live chained in elephant camps. We share the common values that if humans have rights, elephants also have rights. Most of these elephants could be rehabilitated and reintroduced into the wild.”

Dr. Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS vet

FOUR PAWS constructs ELEPHANTS LAKE sanctuary

In response to this animal welfare emergency, FOUR PAWS, which has offices in 11 countries including Australia, is constructing one of the largest elephant sanctuaries in Southeast Asia. Known as ELEPHANTS LAKE, it will cover an area of 17,000 hectares and have veterinarians and experts on staff who will care for former logging elephants, as well as injured or orphaned wild elephants.

The aim of ELEPHANTS LAKE’s comprehensive rehabilitation program is to bring together new herds and release the animals into the adjacent North Zar Ma Yi Forest Reserve. 

“The sanctuary will function as a rehabilitation centre, orphanage and hospital. It will also provide a permanent home for those elephants who cannot be released back into the wild,” said Jeroen van Kernebeek, Country Director for FOUR PAWS in Australia.

The first seven animals are expected to move into the elephant sanctuary by the end of 2018.

Ai Weiwei supports FOUR PAWS in rescue of suffering elephants

Ai Weiwei wishes to support FOUR PAWS in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of the orphaned and former working elephants. He emphasises the importance of this pioneering project for Myanmar as a nation with a rich environmental heritage that could promote long-term sustainable elephant conservation on an international scale. For the artist, this is an act of humanity.

“We need to return these wonderful animals to their natural habitats. This is not only an issue for FOUR PAWS, this is an issue for humanity. I look forward to rescuing and releasing the first elephants soon into ELEPHANTS LAKE together with the representative for animals, Dr. Amir Khalil, from FOUR PAWS.”

Ai Weiwei

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FOUR PAWS press contact

Elise Burgess

Elise Burgess

Head of Communications

M: 0423 873 382

FOUR PAWS Australia
GPO Box 2845 

Main Phone: 1800 454 228

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.

Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.

With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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