This last August Dominic and I traveled to Myanmar to work with The Elephant Project in documenting the plight of the 5,000 recently unemployed timber elephants. On this journey, we were assigned a “fixer” -- a person whose job it is to assist in locating subjects, translating, finding lodging, and facilitating transport around the country. To a filmmaker, this person is pretty much a savior without whom access would be near impossible.
We had the good fortune of getting a fixer named U-Khin Maung Gyi. U-Khin, it turns out, was a very special person. He is a lover of elephants, a lover of birds, a lover of children and a lover of snapping photos too. One thing U-Khin seemed to hate was the rain, something which I will never get over considering he lives in a country with seasonal monsoons lasting 6-months of the year. U-Khin never actually talked about his dislike of the rain, but what gave it away was the tiny little shower cap he kept tucked in his shirt or pants pocket that he would whip out at the first sign of a raindrop.
As we soldiered through a very interesting two weeks letting our itinerary and introductions be driven by U-Khin, it became abundantly clear that one major issue facing the country of Myanmar is what is referred to as human-elephant conflict. We witnessed both rural and commercial farmers live in fear of elephants raiding crops as their habitat continues to disappear due to deforestation. In turn, these terrified villagers turn to poachers to eliminate the threat. We watched U-Khin console these farmers and act as a cathartic container for their terror.
U-Khin made his way from the tourism industry into elephant conservation working with previous documentary filmmakers, as well as major NGOs such as Smithsonian Institute and World Wildlife Fund. With the later, he learned to build and install electric fences designed to keep wild elephants from raiding farmers crops and intimidating villagers. He became a big believer in those fences as he watched poaching in the areas which had such fences drop significantly. However, funding has been sparse and difficult to find.
For the two weeks we were with him we witnessed his dedication and enthusiasm for the project. As we approached all manner of government officials and private land farmers, he would find a moment and launch into what I would call “pitching mode” on the subject. I appreciated this very much as a producer and what U-Khin may not have realized (or maybe he did) is that he inadvertently was pitching me at the same time.
As a resident of the most decadent country in the world, I will never fail to be amazed by the initiative of folks like U-Khin, people of truly modest resources who devote themselves to making a place better. We couldn’t help but ask, wouldn’t it be easier for us to find the funds than him?
We are grateful to The Elephant Project for agreeing to help raise $7,500.00 for the materials and labor necessary to install electric fences in two rural villages that are in desperate need of this fencing. Each village has roughly 15- 20 families. These families grow paddy, beans, lemongrass, sesame, sugarcane and cassava plants and without these fences they could lose all their crops, food for themselves and their livelihoods. This is why these elephants are in such danger and why these fences are so critical. The first village that will receive the fencing is Tha Nat Choung in Taik Kyi Township, Yangon Division and the second is Kalaw village, Kwun Thee Myoung village group, Taik Kyi Tsp, Yangon Division.
100% of the funds donated to The Elephant Project will go to support U-Khin's critical work. Your donations to The Elephant Project are tax deductible.
We thank you in advance for your contribution to help these villages and save the elephants! DONATE TODAY →
Nadia and Dom Gill and The Elephant Project